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SECRET TRADITION OF THE WEST
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 1977 Samuel Weiser, Inc.
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THE HEBREW TRADITION AND THE CLASSIFICATION OF RELATED WORKS
He who wishes, for the first time, to undertake a study of the Qabalah, must be informed of the exact place to be occupied by purely Qabalistic works, such as the Sepher Yetzirah and the Zohar, as distinct from other treatises related to the Hebrew tradition.
It is generally known that in the Qabalah are to be found the theoretical and practical rules of Occult Science; but it is difficult to distinguish between the sacred text per se and the esoteric tradition.
This difficulty arises from the confusion natural to any mind wishing to classify the immense Hebrew compilations which have come down to us.
In the following exposé, we shall attempt to establish as clear as possible a classification of the diverse works the object of which is to stabilize the oral tradition.
To our knowledge there exists no work of satisfactory thoroughness summarizing in one or several tables the given techniques complete with a serious bibliography.
At the end of our study will be found a list of the contemporary works consulted for our enterprise, and referring to this list one can easily see the difficulty which this task has given us. It is for this reason that we cannot be certain of having definitively exhausted the question, and we are entirely ready to recognize our possible errors, should one more knowledgeable than we point them out to us.
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All those who are even slightly aware of subjects pertaining to Israel know that alongside the Bible there has existed, if not always, at least for a long, long time, a tradition aimed at instructing a certain class of initiates in the explanation and comprehension of the Law (the Torah).
This tradition, transmitted for many years by almost solely oral means, bore upon several different points:
1. First there was all which concerned the material body of the Bible. Just as in the Middle Ages we will see certain groups in possession of strict, hidden rules for the construction of the cathedrals, so the physical construction of each copy of the Hebrew Bible was subject to fixed rules, constituting a portion of the tradition.
2. In addition there was all which concerned the spirit of the sacred text. Commentaries and interpretations can be divided into two major sections: on the one hand, the LAW, the collection of rules governing the social relations of members of Israel among themselves, with their neighbours and with the Divinity; on the other, the SECRET DOCTRINE, the body of theoretical and practical knowledge by which one might become acquainted with the relationships between God, man and the Universe.
The physical construction of the sacred text, along with the legislative and the doctrinal sections, form the three great divisions which make of the esoteric tradition a complete whole, formed of body, life and spirit.
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When, given the commentary which heads the Sepher Yetzirah, 'in view of the ill-conditioned affairs of Israel', it was decided to set down the diverse points of the oral tradition, several great works came into being, each of them intended to transmit a part of this tradition.
An understanding of the above classifications permits an easily established and clear classification of these works.
All of which had a bearing on the constitution of the text, the rules concerning the ways to read and write the Torah (Law), the special considerations having to do with the mystic meanings of the sacred letters, all this was put down in the MASSORAH.
The traditional commentaries on the legislative part of the Torah make up the MISHNAN, and later additions (corresponding to our current-day jurisprudence) make up the GEMARAH. The union of these two parts of the legislative section into a whole constitutes the TALMUD.
The secret Doctrine was equally divided in two, theory and practice, disposed in three degrees: a historic degree, a social degree and a mystic degree.
The totality of knowledge contained in these two divisions constitutes the Qabalah as such.
Only the theoretical part of the Qabalah has been fixed in writing, especially with the invention of printing. This theoretical part contains two studies: 1. that of the creation and its mysterious laws (BERESCHITH), summed up in the Sepher Jetzirah; 2. a more metaphysical discussion of the divine essence and its modes of manifestation, and which qabalists refer to as the Heavenly Chariot (MERCAVAH), summed up in the Zohar.
The practical part of the Qabalah is only rarely referred to and/or exposed in a few manuscripts scattered here and there among large collections. The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris possesses one of the most beautiful, the origin of which is attributed to Solomon. These manuscripts, generally known under the name of clavicula, little keys, formed the bases of all the old grimoires which are to be found more or less in abundance (Large and Small Albert, The Red Dragon and Enchiridion) and even of those which have driven priests to the insanity of witchcraft (The Grimoire of Honorius).
We shall now give some details concerning each of the works we have mentioned; but first, let us summarize the preceding in a table which will allow a clear-cut overall view.
We may now turn our attention to each of these collections in detail in order to determine their separate characters.
MASSORAH.—The Massorah forms the body of tradition, treating everything which concerns the material part of the Torah.
The Massorah centres around two principal points:
'1. It teaches how to read doubtful passages by means of periods and vowels, how to group and pronounce words and sentences by means of accents.
'2. It expounds on the consonants, as well as on the exterior and material form of the Bible, and gives an account of the hieroglyphs indicated by the tangible form of the Torah, such as the divisions of books, of chapters, or verses, the shapes of the letters, etc., without, however, explaining the meaning of these hieroglyphs.'
Occultists who have specialized in the Qabalah, such as Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, Fabre d'Olivet, Claude de Saint-Martin, claim that the Massorah, a collection of entirely exoteric formulas, is aimed at removing from the Hebraic tongue anything which might give a clue as to the secret meaning of the Torah.
The Massorah is often divided into Major and Minor. The Rabbinical Bible was printed for the first time by Daniel Bemberg, printer in Venice (1525), then in Amsterdam (17241727).
MISHNAH.—The Mishnah contains six sections (sedarim) which are divided into sixty paragraphs or treatises (M'sachoth); each of these in turn being subdivided into chapters (Perakim).
We will give an outline of the Mishnah so that the reader may have an idea of its content.
Agriculture, comprising eleven chapters
1. Prayer and daily benediction; 2. The corner of the field belonging to the poor; 3. Fruits unsuitable for tithe, how they should be used; 4. Animals which should not be bred; crops which must not grow together on the same earth; threads which must not be woven together; 5. produce from the Sabbatical year; 6. gifts destined for the priest; 7. the tithe of the Levites; 8. the second tithe which a property holder must pay to Jerusalem; 9. kitchens of the priests; 10. prohibition concerning the eating of fruit from trees during their first three years; 11. the first fruits, which must be brought to the temple.
Feast days, comprising twelve chapters
1. Produce from the Sabbath; 2. social possessions, that is, the entire city envisaged as a single household; 3. Easter; 4. the shekel which everyone is obliged annually to give to the Church; 5. duties pertaining to propitiatory feast days; 6. the feast of tabernacles; 7. various dishes prohibited on feast days; 8. new year's day; 9. the various days of abstinence; 10. the reading of the book of Esher, 11. feast half-days; 12. annual sacrifice; the three visits to Jerusalem.
Marriage and divorce contracts, comprising seven chapters
1. Permission and prohibition of marrying one's brother's wife; 2. the marriage contract; 3. the engagement period; 4. divorce; 5. vows; 6. persons consecrated to God; 7. women suspected of adultery.
Damages, comprising ten parts
1. Rights concerning damages suffered; 2. rights over objects which are found, loaned, left in storage; 3. buying, selling, inheritance, deposits and other social exchanges; 4. jurisdiction in general and punishments; 5. the forty blows less one; 6. pledges; 7. general conclusions, law and testimony; 8. what a judge must do who has erroneously passed false sentence; 9. idolatry and commerce with the pagans; 10. moral proverbs.
Sacred offerings, comprising eleven parts
1. Offerings; 2. the offering of flour; 3. the first born; 4. the sacrifice of healthy and sick animals; 5. tax on those things consecrated to God and its payment; 6. exchanging the offering; 7. violation of sacred things; 8. the 36 sins punishable by death; 9. the daily offering; 10. the construction of the temple; 11. doves and turtle-doves.
Purifications, comprising twelve parts
1. Furnishings and their purification; 2. the tent where death has come; 3. leprosy; 4. the ashes of cattle used for purification; 5. various purifications; 6. purificatory ablutions; 7. menstruation; 8. concerning the caution against eating anything impure unless a liquid has been poured over it; 9. the seminal flow; 10. he who has bathed is still impure until sundown; 11. the washing of hands; 12. how a fruit's stem makes it impure.
GEMARAH.—The Gemarah is a veritable anthology of jurisprudence based on the Mishnah. Together the Mishnah and the Gemarah form the Talmud.
With regard to these two collections, it is my great pleasure to bring attention to a very personal and most valuable piece of work by the author of the Mission des Juifs; it is a history of various traditional elements concerning the Talmud (p. 650 and following). Here is an extract from this history:
The bulky agglomeration of casuistic and scholastic literature, which since the return from exile replaced the powerful intellectuality of the prophets and continued to grow after the destruction of the third temple, for ten centuries, is generally grouped under the name of Midrash, commentary.
The two principal sections of this forest of paper are called Hallachah, rhythm or order of the march; Haggada, hearsay or legend.
It is in this last section that the influence of the esoteric communities can be discerned: Qabalah, Shemata.
The first volumes of the Hallachah, or Halakha, are an inextricable tangle of civil and canonical law, of national politics and individual methodology, of divine and human laws, jumbled together and branching out into infinite details.
Still, from many points of view, it is an interesting work to consult and evokes the famous names of Hillel, Akiba and Simon B. Gamaliel.
But the final draft is the work of Judah Hamassi in A.D. 220.
This, then, is the Mishnah, from shana, to learn; and its supplements are known under the name of Tosephftoth, the Boraitha.
Writers of the Mishnaic period, after the Soferim of Ezra, are the Tannim, succeeded by the Amoraim.
Controversies over and developments of the Mishnah by these last mentioned form the Gemarah or the complement.
It had two compilations: that of Palestine or Jerusalem in the middle of the fourth century, and that of Babylon in the fifth century A.D.
The Mishnah and Gemarah combined are known under the name of TALMUD, a continuation and conclusion of the first reform of Ezra.
THE TALMUD.—From the preceding, one can see that the Talmud is composed of the two principal collections which pertain to the legislative section of the Torah.
The Talmud thus constitutes the very Life of tradition, condensed in several treatises. In addition to the two collections we have mentioned (Mishnah and Gemarah) the Talmud contains (providing we consult authors other than Molitor) a whole new series of commentaries (Midrashim) and other additions (Tosephftoth).
In short, these are the names of the collections of writings which go together to make up the Talmud:
The reader whose curiosity has been aroused is well advised to consult the Philosophie de la tradition by Molitor, and especially the Mission des Juifs by Saint-Yves (p. 653 and following). This last work contains a very fine history of the vicissitudes to which the Talmud has been subject throughout the ages.
And now we come to the higher part of tradition, to the Secret Doctrine or Qabalah, the veritable soul of this tradition.
It can be seen from the table given above that the theoretical part of the Qabalah is the only section known to us, the practical or magic parts still being kept secret, or being scarcely touched on in a few rare manuscripts.
1 THEORETICAL QABALAH
Authors who have concerned themselves with the question have considered this theoretical part of the Qabalah from quite different points of view as to internal classification. Let us examine briefly the most important of them.
The largest group of researchers follows the divisions given by the Qabalists themselves. This is the plan followed by M. Ad. Franck in his fine work (1843), by Eliphas Lévi (1853) and by M. Isidore Loeb (Entry Cabala in the Grande Encyclopédie).
The principal subjects of mystic speculation of the time are the work of the chariot (maasse mercavah), by allusion to Ezekiel's Chariot, and work of creation (maasse bereschith).
The work of the chariot, which is also the great work (dabar gadol), discusses the beings of the supernatural world, God, the powers, the fundamental ideas, the 'heavenly family' as it is sometimes called; the work of creation discusses generation and the nature of the terrestrial world.
Here is this division:
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Other writers, such as M. S. Munk divide the Qabalah in the following fashion:
As can be seen, M. S. Munk tends toward the old division adopted by certain qabalists, notably Kircher.
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But in our opinion, the most complete division of the Qabalah is that of Molitor: this is the one which we ourselves have adopted in the general table given previously, for it has the virtue of conforming in an over-all way to the generally adopted divisions while going beyond them, completing them as it were by the inclusion of a practical part.
Traditional teaching, tri-part like human nature and human needs, was at the same time historical, moral and mystical; thus holy writing had a triple sense: 1. the literal, historical sense (pashut), which corresponded to the court of the temple;
2. Moral teachings (drusch), which corresponded to the soul or the holy;
3. A mystical sense (sod), representing the spirit and the holy of holies.
The first, composed of certain stories taken from the lives of the ancient patriarchs, was transmitted from generation to generation, like so many popular legends. It is found scattered here and there in the form of glosses and explanatory notes in Biblical manuscripts and Chaldean paraphrases.
The moral sense looked at everything from a practical point of view, while the mystical, rising above the visible transitory world, hovered unceasingly in the sphere of the eternal.
The mystical sense thus required a secret discipline, an uncommon piety of soul.
These two conditions called for the initiation of disciples, regardless of age or status; it sometimes happened that a father would instruct his children along these lines while they were still very young.
This high tradition is called Qabalah (in Hebrew, KIBBEL, to join together). Within its exterior form the word conceals the essential aptitude of the soul for conceiving supernatural ideas.
The Qabalah was divided into two parts: the theoretical and the practical.
1. Patriarchal traditions on the holy mystery of God and the divine persons;
2. On spiritual creation and the fall of the angels;
3. On the origin of chaos, matter and the renovation of the world during the six days of creation;
4. On the creation of visible man, his fall and the divine ways leading to his reinstatement.
Otherwise stated, it treated:
The work of creation (Maasse Bereschith).
The heavenly chariot (Mercavah).
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The work of creation is contained in the Sepher Yetzirah.
We were responsible for the first French translation of this book to appear (1887).
Since then, a new translation has appeared, enhanced by more complete originals, the work of M. Mayer-Lambert.
Excerpted from THE QABALAH by PAPUS. Copyright © 1977 Samuel Weiser, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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