Category Archives: kabbalah

Philosophia Symbolica * Cis van Heertum (2005)

A decade and a half or so ago, I was very interested in Hermetism, (Christian) Kabbalah and the like. I travelled to the Amsterdam Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (or Ritman Library) every once in a while. That has been quite a while. Some time ago I wondered if the library would have publications that I do not have yet and I noticed this book about Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522). Wondering why I never came to get it (or why I did not visit the exhibition!) I got this well-printed book for only € 10,-. Actually it is an exhibition catalogue, but at the BPH, a catalogue is never just a dry summing up of the items on display.

The book is about A4 in size and counts just over 100 pages. As with other BPH exhibition catalogues, there is a lot of information in the book. From the book you can learn how Reuchlin was in contact with people such as Marcilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Trithemius and many more of the interesting people of his time. Pico acquainted Reuchlin with the Kabbalah and he had yet another branch to add to his quickly growing library. Hebrew books, and Kabbalistic books in particular, were very hard to find in these days.
There is quite a bit of focus on Reuchlin’s role in the situation of the forbidding of Jewish books. He had a standpoint that brought him quite a bit of trouble. He did not want all Jewish books destroyed.
You will also learn about Reuchlin’s library and what happened to the books after he passed (most were only destroyed during WWII!), what else he wrote about and how his works inspired people who came after him.
You will not learn too much about his Kabbalistic ideas though.

Like I said, the book is actually the catalogue of an exhibition that the BPH had on Reuchlin in 2005/6 to celebrate the 550th anniversary of his birth. The BPH has a massive collection of ancient esoteric books, many originals and first or early prints. Still they had some works come from other libraries for this exhibition. The items on display included works of Ficino, Pico, Eusebius, Pythagoras, Agrippa, Trithemius, Gikatilla, Khunrath, Böhme and Fludd. Of course many works of Reuchlin himself were displayed.
Each displayed item gets a shorter or longer explanation. read more

The Secret Teachings Of All Ages * Manly Palmer Hall (1928)

When this 700-page book was published, the author (1901-1990) was only 28 years old. He decided to write this book in his early 20’ies and began to read the required literature. The bibliography is staggering, but Hall certainly had a few favourite sources. The book is presented as “A masterfull summation of the esoteric teachings of all ages” and “a classic in the world’s literature”. To be frank: however the work is impressive in size, it is not very much so in depth. Hall soon proves himself to lean heavily towards Theosophism and come across somewhat gullible. Also it is quite obvious that he was scholar and not an esotericist. What Hall mainly does is study a subject and pour all the information into a synopsis. He does that well, but in most cases things remain quite on the surface giving more information about the history of cults and religions than insight in their esotericisms. This is not to say that Hall does not present some thought-provoking interpretations of symbols and teachings. I especially like his chapters abour Rosicrucianity (in fact, when I bought this book I expected it to be about the secret symbols…). What bugs me is that the author makes some eyecatching mistakes, sometimes (I think) because of ignorance, sometimes of sloppiness and that makes me wonder about the parts that I do not know everything of by heart. In any case, the book is an alright read, but do not believe the raving reviews or expect a compendium of esoteric knowledge. Mind too, there are different versions, apparently not all as good as the other. Some have bad images reviewers on Amazon say. The version that I bought does not have very good images I can say.
1928 / 2003 Tarcher/Penguin, isbm 9781585422500

Adulruna Und Die Gotische Kabbala * Thomas Karlsson (2007)

It has been quite a while since I investigated the interesting Swede Johannes Bureus. There seems to be quite an interest in the man, since my articles and book reviews are relatively popular and I even got two comments in a few days time on an article speaking about Bureus. One of these comments notified me about this book. I guess I missed it, otherwise I would have bought it earlier, but if I remember correctly this is the dissertation of Karlsson and was only available in Swedish in the time I wrote my articles. Karlsson is one of the founders of the Dragon Rouge order and this German translation is published by the Edition Roter Drache. It is good that this little book has been translated to a language that is mastered by more people. First of all Karlsson is more extensive and in-depth than Stephen Flowers, but mostly, Karlsson has visited all the libraries that have writings of Bureus, so the information about for example Adalruna is not based on one version, but on all seven. Then, of course, there is quite a lot of material about Bureus and his system available in Swedish and Karlsson used all these sources too, so now we have more insight in what has been investigated already than when a non-Swedish author picks up the subject. Having written this book on college, Karlsson dived into the current scholarly field of the investigation of Western esotericism, of course including our Amsterdam chair and the Sarbonne in France.
Karlsson wanted to put Bureus in a larger perspective and therefor he starts with information about Western esotericism and the scholars in this field and he continues with a rather long chapter about gothicism and what is meant and what it means. There is little information about the life of Bureus himself, but all the more about his Kabbalistic use of his runes and his shady figures such as the cubic stone and the rune cross. What I mostly enjoy about the larger perspective is that Karlsson says a thing or two about Bureus’ predecessors and how and why his system had such little influence on later generations. Indeed, Karlsson’s book definately adds something to the subject and I would suggest an English edition to expand the readership a bit more.
2007 Edition Roter Drache, isbn 9783939459040
See here for my Bureus articles.

Elements Of The Kabbalah * Eliphas Levi (isbn 1558183663)

This book has just as the other Levi book in Dutch been in print since 1984 and has just had a new pressing. It is a short text about the Kabbalah and Freemasonry. Levi speaks a bit about the Siphra Dzeniûta, but only has a fairly short version of the Idra Suta. After this some information about the Kabbalah, Christianity and Eastern religions and then on to Freemasonry. A nice little book, but nothing for a beginner or reference-work. And it is sold out in english too…

The Hermetic Museum – Alchemy & Mysticism * Alexander Roob (isbn 382288653X)

This is really a magnificent collection of ‘occult art’. If you like what you see in the occult art section of the artpages of Sententia, you definately have to get this book. It counts over 700 pages and is stuffed with Hermetic, Kabbalistic, philosophical, religious, occult and mystic art, forming a wonderfull overview of pieces full of symbolism. From well known artists such as Athanasius Kircher and William Blake, to title pages of ancient occult works and magical diagrams.
Roob managed to divide the book in sections, so the pieces are not in order of artist. These sections are explained and elucidated and most pieces are explained as well.

Between the pictures and accompanying them, you will also read many quotes from alchemical texts, explanations and history.

Kabbalah * Charles Poncé (isbn 0835605108)

I have read my lot of works about the Kabbalah (Kabala, Kabalah, Kabballah, Qabbalah, however you want to spell it), but none is like Charles Poncé’s work that is the subject of this review.

The best part of this book is that Poncé opens with a full history of Jewish literature and mystic and Rabbin traditional writings. This -as he says himself- had never been done before. For full account, I’m talking about the following works: Talmud, MisjnÍ h, GemarÍ h, MidrÍ sj, HalachÍ h and AgadÍ h (forgive me if the English equivalents are written differently). Given are explanations to what books and tradition these term refer and a brief history and description of the Jewish streamings that are associated with them.

Lengthy chapters about the Sephen JetsirÍ h, Zohar and shorter parts about ‘less important’ books.
Clear information about the two forms of Kabbalism (practical, speculative), the links that can be made with astrology, the tarot, eastern philosophies.
Of course explanation of the Hebrew alphabet and gematria, variations of the Sephirothic tree, explanations of the Sephira, different views and variations of combinations.
Then there is a large part about Kabbalistic teachings and doctrines and to close off Kabbalism in modern times.

All the information you need to have for a proper start with Kabbalism and a descent supplement for those who already work with the Kabbalah for some time. And that is a relative small book.

Last point to mention (but not the least): there are a lot of pictures in this book!

Major Trends In Jewish Mysticism * Gershom G. Scholem (1941 * isbn 0805210423)

So how could I have ever claimed to study the Kabbalah when I hadn’t read the most basic text? Well, I have been paging through this book several times, but indeed I always bought more recent works. Really reading Scholem’s book afterall, it is a feast of recognition. Obviously almost every later writer draws so heavily on Scholem (1897-1982), that most information was already familiar. Still this book is wider than just a book about the Kabbalah (“Jewish mysticism” is more than just Kabbalah) and has more information overall.

Because Scholem was the first scholar to study this subject (and finally put it on the map), he needed to give background information before getting to specific subjects. This is helpfull for people who are new to Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah, but other people will be paging through this book rapidly at some parts. Major Trends is a compilation of lectures. The first is about Jewish mysticism in general. The second about “Merkabah mysticism and Jewish gnosticism” (very nice piece). Then follows “Hasidism in Mediaeval Germany”, Abulafia, two lectures about the Zohar, Luria, Sabbatai Sevi and modern Hasidism.

Scholem doesn’t always have a very structured style of writing, which is a bit of a pitty. Often you will have to search for the information you want, because it isn’t nicely written after eachother. Also Scholem had some ‘unorthodox views’ that even many of his admireres didn’t follow. The most eyecatching (to me) is that mysticism is not the source of religion, but its outcome.

Anyway, Major Trends can be bought in very cheap paperback versions and belongs in every (personal) library which wants information about Jewish mysticism and/or Kabbalah.

The Kabbalah Unvieled * Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (isbn 0140193103)

Strange how a ball can role, we say in the Netherlands. A while ago I printed large parts from this book from the online version when I was writing my article about the Sifra Dtzeniutha and the Stanzas Of Dzyan (see articles section). I knew that the book was still available, but I didn’t really think to buy it, until I saw a copy on a book-fair with cheap books and I could obtain it for only E 7,-! The Kabbalah Unveiled is of course a translation of the (in)famous Kabbala Denudata of Christian Knorr of Rosenroth (see my article about the Christian Cabala) which on its turn is a translation of several parts of the Jewish Zohar and other Jewish Kabbalist texts to Latin. Mathers used only a the Zohar texts, being the Siphra Dtzenioutha of Book of concealed Mystery, the Idra Rabba Qadisha or Greater Holy Assembly, an explanation of the Siphra and the Idra Zuta Qadisha or Lesser Holy Assembly, a shorter version of the Idra Rabba. These three are probably the most difficult parts of the Zohar and it is great that these are available for the ‘common man’. Mathers’ translation is not the ultimate English version of the texts though. Nowhere it is mentioned that this book is a translation of a translation, so especially people who don’t know this, will be get very confused reading it. Knorr translated the text and put his remarks within the text themselves between brackets and then after every verse you will get Mathers’ comments between square brackets. There is too much comment to be able to just read the text. It would have been better when the Knorr-comments and the Mathers comments had been put in notes and mentioned whose comments are whose. And with all commentary present, the three books remain difficult, but that doesn’t matter.

Oh, just in short, the Siphra speaks about creation in the form of the building of the divine (human) body. You can read about the magistic beard, etc. very strange in our view. With this book you will have comments about the Siphra from ‘Rabbi Shimeon’ (of the two Qadishas), Knorr and Mathers. That should shed some light??

The Chicken Qabalah * Lon Milo DuQuette (isbn 1578632153)

I am sure the title of this book made you smile? Well, I can asure you one thing, the book is as silly as the title. BUT, not only silly! I had seen this title at Amazon several times and never really had a closer look, because of that title. When I was looking for a practical book on the Qabalah, it was rather high up in the list, so I figured to read the description anyway and even decided to order it.

“The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford” tells the story of the (imaginary) Rabbi in the USA. Because Ben Clifford wasn’t an orthodox Qabalist, he named his version of the Qabalah “Chicken Qabalah” to distinguish himself from orthodox Qabalists. This book is said to be a collection of Ben Clifford’s writings, lectures, interviews, etc, together giving the largest part of the formerly secret doctrines of Ben Clifford’s “Zerrubbabel Institute of Philosophical Youth” (ZIPY).
It is more likely though, that DuQuette came up with the idea of this unique way of introducing Qabalist teachings. DuQuette earlier wrote more practical magickal books, an Enochian dictionary, books about Aleister Crowley, etc. I haven’t read any of them, but in “The Chicken Qabalah” DuQuette worked with the idea that humour is a good way of bringing difficult matter, and humour is what you get here for sure!! The book is so hilarious that a big part of the time I was smiling and often laughed out loud about Ben Clifford’s statements. Still, I didn’t read anything that wasn’t correct (or very obviously) and indeed the book is quite practical, but more in a way of getting you on the path. “The Chicken Qabalah” is an introduction to Qabalism for people with already some background. People with more knowledge will also get some extremely detailed information here and there.

Now I want to tell you how Ben Clifford came to write the word Qabalah as he does.
The Hebrew characters for the word kabbalah are Q (qoph), B (beth) and L (lamed) H (heh). Since ancient Hebrew didn’t have vowels, you only get QBL, of which you can make QoBeLa for example, but Ben Clifford made it into Qabalah, which is a good way of transliterating QBLH to English.
The first letter is often named “Koph” or “Kaph” which is the reason that many people write “Kabala” or something like that. There are many ways of making an English word out of these characters. The most often used are “Kabbalah”, “Cabala” and “Qabalah”. Now let these three just be three ways of writing to tell three Qabalastic movements from eachother! “Kabbalah” is used by orthodox (Jewish) students, “Cabala” by Christian Cabalists and “Qabalah” by “ceremonial magicians”.
Ben Clifford (or DuQuette) indirectly naming himself a ceremonial magickal Qabalist is supported by various references to Aleister Crowley and as mentioned DuQuette wrote more than one book about the ‘most evil man in history’.

“The Chicken Qabalah” is divided in 11 chapters, which are all poured in a very different form:
Chapter 0. is an introduction to the Rabbi by DuQuette;
Chapter 1. are the Frequently Asked Questions which give you in introduction to the Chicken Qabalah;
Chapter 2. are the Ten Command-Rants, which clearly set way for the humour in the book;
Chapter 3. is about the Sepher Yetzirah (“book of formation”, the basis of Qabalism) which is a short lecture of Ben Clifford to his students and a translation;
Chapter 4. speaks of the Hebrew Alphabet and is very detailed with some interesting insights;
Chapter 5. is about the name of God and the arc of the covenant and is another lecture of Ben Clifford. He gives the entire scope of possibities of the transliteration or translation of the Tetragrammaton (JHVH (jod, heh, vau, heh – from right to left), coming to stunning conclusions;
Chapter 6. is about the four Qabalistic worlds and the four parts of the soul and is written as a screenplay for a Qabalastic documentary, making the point perfectly clear;
Chapter 7. is about the Tree of Life (Sephirothic Tree) and comes in the form is essays of students of the original ZIPY (“date: adar, 23rd, 520 B.C.”);
Chapter 8. speaks of Qabalistic Magick with the Tree of Life and has a table with the hierarchies of (arch) angels to make it easier to form spells;
Chapter 9. is about the Chicken Qabalah Tarrot and is an interview of Ben Clifford by a Tarot magazine. In the interview Ben Clifford speaks about the connections between Qabalah, Tarot and astrology in staggering detail;
Chapter 10. introduces the Qabalastic games of Gematria, Notariqon and Temura and Ben Clifford gives a few examples of how you can start with your practices.

Further the Rabbi’s last words about the Shem-Ha-Mephorash, the notes, a glossary (very nice), bibliography (also very nice) and an index.

To give you an idea of the tone of the book, I want to put some quotes so you can see if you can overcome the sense of humour and Ben Clifford’s teachings to give you the opportunity to decide if this book is something for you.

Earlier I have spoken about the ‘correct’ spelling of the word Qabalah, here is what Ben Clifford says about that in his FAQ:
“Is there a correct way to spell the word Qabalah?
Hell no! You’re a Chicken Qabalist! Don’t worry about it. Cabala, Kabbalah, Quabbalah, Caqubabalalah — They’re all wrong! (So they may as well all be correct!)” (p. 7/8).

In chapter 3. Ben Clifford claims to give the true and only translation of the Sepher Yetsirah. He has been able to lay his hands on an original manuscript, typed the text over in his computer, changed the font from Hebrew to Times New Roman and here are two quotes from his translation:
“Deity, whom we call Yah, Yea-man, Jehovah of hosts, Joe Heavy, What-It-Is, the Big Kahuna, the Mighty Duh, the living Elohim, King of the Universe, Omnipotent, All-King and Merciful, Supreme, and Extolled is all- powerfull, eternal; who is really, really holy and very, very large; who is so big It is both King and Queen of the universe, who is so all-encompassing and huge that It has nowhere to sit down because all the chairs are inside of Itself; who, because It is everywhere and nowhere, everything and nothing, had no one to play with – the Dude of Dudes created the Universe…” (p. 30)
“The Three Fundamental Letters – – (Aleph, Mem, Shin) are real Mothers and extremely cool. Deity took their temperatures and tissue samples, and measured their cholesterol levels, issued them numbers, certified them, and formed by them lots of things…” (p. 32).
I hope you have read an original translation….

One quote from the chapter about the Hebrew alphabeth (“aleph”, “beth” by the way):
“Lamed is Path No. 22 [on the Tree of Life]. It joins Geburah (Strength) to Tiphareth (Beauty). Lamed. The little Yod at the top of Lamed towers over and above the other letters and makes it easy to recognize. Lamed looks like a snake that has swallowed a brick and is now having second thoughts.” (p. 55)

In Chapter five Ben Clifford gives the possible pronounciations of the name of God () which could sound like this:
“Students of Zen could meditate upon the inscrutable I-He-We-Who? | Chanting the mantra You-Who-Way- High might bring the devotee to the realization of I-Who-Way-High? | Tantric lovers might lure their divine lover by cooing “Yoo-Hoo! Way-High,” or at the ecstatic moment they could shout “Yeh! I-Woo-High?” | The beauties of paradise might cause vacationing mystics to swoon and utter “Gee! Ha-Wah-Ee!” | Perhaps the God of cowboys is called Gee-Hah! Wah-Hoo! ” (p. 74)

Well, I guess you get the point. Funny, practical, informative. I like it! And would it be of use? “Hell no! You’re a Chicken Qabalist! Don’t worry about it.”

The Essential Kabbalah * Daniel C. Matt (isbn 0785808701)

Kabbalah seems to become popular following other esotericism that has reached the masses. Even cheap books can be bought about the kabbalah nowadays and there are a lot of introductions of which this is one. But not just one! Matt has studied the kabbalah (traditional Jewish) for 25 years and however he doesn’t see himself as a kabbalist, he does see himself as an expert. I suppose this means he hasn’t been initiated by ‘real kabbalists’. Anyway, instead of writing a book about the kabbalah, Matt came up with an original and wonderfull idea!

He starts with a short but nice history. Further the book is divided into chapters and then paragraphs. Instead of writing parts of text for the paragraphs, Matt translated/quoted texts from traditional kabbalist books! You wil get texts from the early days of kabbala (13th century) to the present day, from writers such as Abraham Abulafia (13th century), Moses de Léon (13th cent.), Joseph Gikatilla (13th cent.), Moses Cordovero (16th cent.) to Abraham Isaac haCohen (20th cent.), but also traditional texts like the Sepher Yetsirah (3-6th cent.) or the Zohar (13th. century). The translations are well-readable and picked very well.

Not a real practical book with Trees Of Life, Gematric and Notaric tricks, but a very nice look into the mystical side of the kabbalah. I want to advise it to both beginners and advanced students of either the kabbalah, the cabala or the qabala.