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The Idra Suta or The Great Synod
Commentary on the Siphra Dzeniúta by Simeon Ben-Jochai
Jerusalem had just been destroyed by the Romans. It was forbidden to the Jews, on pain of death, to return to mourn the ruins of their homeland. The entire nation had been dispersed, the holy traditions lost. The true Qabalah had given way to puerile and superstitious subtleties. Those who claimed to preserve the heritage of hidden doctrine were nothing more than sorcerers and fortune-tellers, justly proscribed by the laws of nations. It was then that a venerable rabbi named Simeon Ben-Jochai gathered round him the last initiates of primitive science, having resolved to explain to them the book of high theogony called the Book of Mystery. Each of them knew the text by heart, but only the rabbi Simeon was acquainted with the profound meaning of this book which had, up to this time, been transmitted from mouth to mouth, from memory to memory, without explication or even benefit of the written word.
In order to assemble them round him, here are the words he sent them:
'Why, in these days of great torment, should we remain as a house supported by a single column, or as a man who stands on only one foot? It is time to take action for the Lord, for men have lost the true sense of the law.
Our days grow short, the master calls; the harvest has been abandoned, the reapers have strayed far from the ripened vine.
'Come together in this same countryside where so much has so lately gone undone.
Come, as if for combat, armed with wisdom, counsel, intelligence, knowledge and attention; let your feet be as unencumbered as your hands.
'Acknowledge as your only master he who holds sway over life and death, and together we shall utter the words of truth which heaven's saints are wont to hear, and they will come down among us to hear us.'
On the appointed day, the rabbis assembled in the fields, in a circular space enclosed by a high wall.
They arrived in silence. Rabbi Simeon sat down in the midst of them, and seeing them all together, he wept.
'I am lost,' he cried, 'if I reveal the great mysteries! I am lost if I leave them unexplained!' The rabbis remained silent.
At last one of them, named Rabbi Abba, spoke, saying:
'With the master's permission. Is it not written: "The secrets of the Lord belong to those who fear him"? And all we who are here, do we not fear the Lord, and are we not already privy to the secrets of the Temple?'
Now here are the names of those who were present: Rabbi Eleazar, son of Rabbi Simeon, Rabbi Abba, Rabbi Jehuda, Rabbi José, son of Jacob, Rabbi Isaac, Rabbi Thiskia, son of Raf, Rabbi José and Rabbi Jesa.
All, binding themselves to secrecy, put their hand in that of Rabbi Simeon and with him pointed towards heaven. Then they took their seats in the circumscribed area, where they were well hidden by large trees.
Rabbi Simeon stood and prayed; then he sat down again and said to them: 'Come, all of you, and place your right hand on my breast.'
They did so; and he, taking all these hands in his own, said solemnly: 'Cursed be he who makes for himself an idol and hides it! Woe unto him who covers falsehood with the veils of mystery!'
The eight rabbis answered: 'Amen.'
Rabbi Simeon went on: 'There is only one true God, before whom no other gods exist, and there is only one true people, the body of those who worship the one true God.'
Then he called his son Eleazar and had him seat himself before him. Near him, he placed Rabbi Abba and said: 'We now form a triangle, the primordial figure of all that exists; we represent the door of the temple and its two columns.'
Rabbi Simeon then refrained from speaking, and his disciples likewise. An obscure murmur made itself heard, like that of a large gathering. It was the spirits of heaven who had come down to listen.
The disciples trembled, but Rabbi Simeon said to them: 'Fear nothing and rejoice. For it is written: "Lord, I have heard the sound of your presence and I trembled."
'Formerly God ruled over man through fear, but now his reign is that of love. Has it not been said: "You shall love your God"? And did he not himself say: "I have loved you"?'
Then he added: 'The secret doctrine is for reflective souls; the troubled and restless soul cannot understand it. Can one have confidence in a nail fixed to a moving wall, ready as it is to crumble at the slightest shock?
'The whole world is founded on mystery, and if discretion is necessary in worldly affairs, how much greater should be our reserve when dealing with the mysterious dogmas which God does not even reveal to the highest of his angels?
'Heaven bends down to listen to us, but my words must remain veiled. The earth moves in order to hear, but what I say will be in symbols.
'We are, at this very moment, the gate and the columns of the universe.'
At last Rabbi Simeon spoke, and tradition preserved in the mystery of mysteries assures us that when he opened his mouth, the earth trembled beneath his feet and that his disciples felt its trembling.
He spoke first of the kings who ruled over Edom before the coming of the king Israel, symbols of the unbalanced powers which manifested themselves at the beginning of the universe, before the triumph of harmony.
'God,' said he, 'when he wished to create, threw over his radiance a veil and in its folds, he cast his shadow. From this shadow there arose giants who said: "We are kings": but they were nothing more than phantoms. They appeared because God had hidden himself by creating night within chaos; they disappeared when there was brought forth in the east that luminous head, that glowing head that humanity gives itself by proclaiming the existence of God, the sun, governor of our aspirations and our thoughts.
'The gods are mirages made of shadow, and God is the synthesis of splendours. Usurpers fall away when the king mounts his throne, and when God appears, the gods are banished.'
'Thus, when God had permitted the night to exist, in order that the stars might appear, he turned towards the shadow he had made and considered it, to give it a face.
'He formed an image on the veil with which he had covered his glory, and this image smiled at him, and he regarded this image as his own, so that he might create man in accordance with it.
'In a manner of speaking, he tried out this prison reserved for created spirits. He looked at this face that was to become one day the face of man, and his heart was moved, for already he seemed to hear the lamentations of his creations.
'You who wish to subject me to the law, it seemed to say, give me proof that this law is just, by subjecting yourself to it as well.
'And so God became man in order that he might be loved and understood by men.
'Now, of him we know only this image, formed on the veil which hides his splendour. This image is our own, and he wishes that we recognize it to be also his.
'Thus we know him without knowing him; he shows us a form and possesses none. We have given him the image of an old man, he who has no age.
'He is seated on a throne from which escape eternally sparks of light by the millions, and he commands them to become worlds. His hair radiates and stirs the stars. Universes revolve around his head, and suns bathe themselves in his light.'
'The divine image is a double one. There are the heads of light and of shadow, the white ideal and the black ideal, the upper head and the lower. One is the dream of the ManGod, the other is the invention of the God-Man. One represents the God of the wise, and the other, the idol of the lowly.
'All light, in truth, implies shadow and possesses its brilliance only in opposition to that shadow.
'The luminous head pours out upon the dark one a constant dew of splendour. "Let me in, my beloved," says God to intelligence, "for my head is filled with dew, and among the curls of my hair wander the tears of night."
'This dew is the manna by which the souls of the just are nourished. The elect are hungry for it and gather it abundantly in the fields of heaven.
'These drops are round pearls, brilliant as diamonds and clear as crystal. They are white and glow with all colours, for there is one simple truth alone: the splendour of all things.'
'The divine image has thirteen rays: four on each side of the triangle in which we enclose it and one at its uppermost point.
'Draw it in the sky with your thought, trace its lines from star to star, it will contain three hundred and sixty multitudes of worlds.
'For the high old one called the Macroprosopopeia or the great creative hypothesis is also called Arich-Anphin, the immense countenance. The other, the human god, the face of shadow, the Microprosopopeia, the limiting hypothesis, is called Seir-Anphin or the contracted countenance.
'When this countenance beholds the face of light, it grows and becomes harmonious. Order is thus restored; but this cannot last, for the thoughts of man are as changeable as man himself.
'But there is always a luminous thread which attaches shadow to light. This thread runs through the innumerable conceptions of human thought, linking them all to divine splendour.
'The head of light sends out its whiteness to all thinking heads or entities, when they follow the path of law and reason.'
'The head of the supreme old one is a closed receptacle, where infinite wisdom lies at rest like a fine wine whose lees cannot be disturbed.
'This wisdom is impenetrable, possessor of itself in silence within eternity, inaccessible to the vicissitudes of time.
'It is the light, but it is the dark head which is the lamp. The oil of intelligence is meted out, and its brilliance, by thirty-two ways, is made manifest.
'God revealed is God hidden. This human shadow of God is like the mysterious Eden from which there issued a spring that divided itself into four rivers.
'Nothing pours forth from God himself. His substance is without issue. Nothing departs from him and nothing enters in, for he is impenetrable and immutable. All that begins, all that appears, all that is divided, all that flows and passes, begins, appears, is divided, flows and passes in his shadow. He is, unto himself, immovable in his light, and he remains thus, like an old wine laid to rest.'
'Do not seek to penetrate the thoughts of the mysterious head. Its intimate thoughts are hidden, but its exterior, creative thoughts shine forth like a head of hair. White hair without shadow and whose strands are never tangled.
'Each strand is a thread of light attached to millions of worlds. The hairs are divided at the forehead and descend on either side; but each side is the right side. For in the divine image which constitutes this head of light, the left side has no place.
'The left side of the head of light is the dark head, for in traditional symbolism, the lower reaches are the equivalent of the left.
'Now, between the heights and the depths of the image of God there must be no more antagonism than between the left hand and right hand of man, since harmony results from the analogy of opposites.
'Israel in the desert grew discouraged and asked: "Is God with us or against us?" 'Thus they spoke of him whom one knows and of him who is not known.
'Thus they separated the white head from the dark head.
'The god of shadow became, then, an exterminating phantom.
'They were punished because they had doubted through lack of confidence and love.
'One does not understand God, but one loves him; and it is love that produces faith.
'God hides from the mind of man, but reveals himself to the heart.
'When man says: "I do not believe in God," it is as if he were to say: "I do not love."
'And the voice of shadow answers: "You will die because your heart renounces life."
'The Microprosopopeia is the great night of faith, and it is in faith that the just live and breathe. They stretch forth their hands and take hold of the hair of the father, and from these splendid strands fall drops of light which come to illuminate their night.
'Between the two sides of these divided strands is the pathway of initiation, the middle path, the path of opposites in harmony.
'There, all is reconciled and understood. There, only good triumphs and evil is no longer.
'This pathway is that of supreme balance and is called the last judgment of God.
'The hairs of the white head spread out in perfect order on all sides, but do not cover the ears.
'For the ears of the Lord are always open to prayer. And nothing can prevent them from hearing the orphan's cry or the wail of the oppressed.'
On the forehead of the supreme head resides the majesty of majesties, the goodness of all goodnesses united, the true pleasure of all true pleasures.
'This is love, whose power is created and shared by all those who love.
'Humanity's will, symbolized by the forehead of the Microprosopopeia, must correspond to this love.
'The forehead of collective man is called Reason. It is often veiled in shadow, but when it shows itself, God gives ear to the prayers of Israel. When, then, does it show itself?'
Rabbi Simeon paused a moment, then reiterated his question: 'Yes, when?'
And turning toward Rabbi Eleazar, his son, he repeated: 'When does it show itself?'
'At the time of common prayer on the day of the Lord,' answered Rabbi Eleazar.
'How?' asked the master.
'Men, when they pray, prostrate themselves before God whom they imagine as angry; the forehead of the head of shadow is then covered with clouds and it seems that thunder and lightning must issue from them.
'But the shadows part, struck by a ray from the supreme face: eternal serenity imprints its image on them and even the dark face grows brighter.
'When the just pray, they address divine goodness, and this sentiment of goodness drives away from them all shadows of fear. Serenity on the face of man is the radiating light of the divine countenance.
'When anger is stilled in the heart of man, he dreams of God's forgiveness; but it is man alone who pardons, for God is never angered.
'Adam is driven from earthly paradise by the anger and maliciousness of the head of shadow, but the face of light smiles on him ceaselessly from its celestial paradise.
'Eden, divided by four rivers, is a mystery of the head of shadow. Obscure symbols come from obscure thought, the dogmatic god is the father of mysterious allegories.
'The higher Eden has no divisions or exclusions: there are no poisoned apples in the garden of the supreme God.
'But only the father knows this Eden, he alone understands his love, pitiless for all eternity, for he is without weakness and without anger.'
'Let us continue mentally to draw the hieroglyphic head which symbolizes the father. What eyes shall we give him?
'Eyes other than mortal eyes, eyes without lids and lashes.
'For God never sleeps; his eyes are never closed.
'Is it not written: "The guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps"?
'It is also written: "The eyes of the Lord gaze without ceasing throughout the expanse of the universe."
'And yet it is said: "The gaze of the Lord falls on those who fear him, the eye of Adonai is fixed on Israel."
'Is this a contradiction? No, in truth. For the Lord who sees the entire universe is the god of light; he who sees and prefers a single people is the god of shadow.
'The preference accorded Israel would be an injustice and hence a lie, if God did not look at the same throughout the whole of the universe. The eye of privilege would see poorly if he were not sustained, rectified by the eye of justice. It is for this reason that we give two eyes to the supreme head; but these two eyes are the two ends of an ellipse, and this ellipse of two eyes makes only one eye in all.
'This single eye has three rays and three halos.
'These halos are crowns which constitute the triple kingdom of all things visible to God.
There are two eyes, but should one wish to distinguish between them, they merge into one.
'This is the right eye of the single face composed of light and shadow, for the two faces are in fact one, as the two eyes arc one eye.
'The left eye, this is the Microprosopopeia, and it has eyebrows which frown and eyelids which close.
'This one slumbers often, for it is made in the image of man, and it is this one we address when we say: "Lord, awake! and turn your eye upon us."
'Woe to the man who sees the eye of God as red, inflamed with anger!
'He who believes in a wrathful God, where will he seek his pardon?
'The Ancient of days is all goodness, and the beam of his eye is always the whitest and purest of lights.
'Happy is the lot of the just and wise man, who views all with this same purity and whiteness!
'It is written: "Come, family of Jacob, and walk in the light of Adonai."
'The name of the supreme master remains, however, shrouded in mystery.
'Nowhere in the law is it explained, except in this passage where God says to Abraham: "I swear by my own self that through you shall Israel be blessed."
'Who can so bind himself by an oath, if not the human God? And what is Israel in the divine order, if not the divine faith of Israel?
'And if God says through the mouth of the prophet: "Israel, you shall be my glory," is this not the God of shadow who wishes to glorify himself in the splendour of Israel's God of light?
Excerpted from THE BOOK OF SPLENDOURS by Eliphas Levi. Copyright © 1973 Samuel Weiser, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Part One: The Idra Suta or The Great Synod — Commentary on the Siphra
The Mysteries of the White Beard
Mystery of the Black Beard
Details Concerning the Great White Beard
Conclusion Concerning the Allegorical Figure of the Macroprosopopeia
The Text of the Sohar Continued — Prologue Concerning the
The Kings of Edom
The Skull of the Microprosopopeia (Air, Fire, and Dew)
The Hair of the Microprosopopeia
The Forehead of the Microprosopopeia (The Eyes and Their Colour)
The Nose and the Beard — Analysis
The Microprosopopeia Considered as Androgynous
Osiris is a Dark God
Continuation of the Text
On Justice — Following the Text of Rabbi Simeon
Final Words — On the Supreme Man
Part Two: Christian Glory
The Legend of Krishna Selection from the Bhagavadam
CHAPTER I The Conception
CHAPTER II The Nativity
CHAPTER III The Massacre of the Innocents
CHAPTER IV Childhood Anecdotes Similar to Those of the Gospels
CHAPTER V The Baptism
CHAPTER VI The Song of Songs
CHAPTER VII The Transfiguration
CHAPTER VIII The Triumphal Entry
CHAPTER IX Krishna Triumphs Over All the Giants
CHAPTER X Words Before the Passion
CHAPTER XI The Death of Krishna
Part Three: The Flaming Star
Masonic Legends — Extracts from a Ritual Manuscript of the Eighth Century
The Story of Phaleg
The Crossing of the River Nabuzanai
Profession of Faith
Elements of the Qabalah in Ten Lessons — Letters of Eliphas Lévi
Appendix: The Doctrine of Eliphas Lévi by Papus
Introduction to the Study of the Doctrine of Eliphas Lévi
The Doctrine of Eliphas Lévi
1. General Make-up of Man
2. Analysis of Constituent Principles
3. Evolution of Principles
4. The Universe
6. Realization of the Doctrine: Moral Conclusions — The Magic of Axioms
7. Adaptation of the Doctrine — Symbolism