An Introduction to the Study of the Kabalah

By William Wynn Westcott


Let us take the Practical Kabalah before the Dogmatic; it may perhaps have preceded the Theoretical Philosophy because it was at first concerned with an intimate study of the Pentateuch; a research based upon the theory that every sentence, word and letter were given by Divine Inspiration and that no jot or tittle (the Yod the smallest Hebrew letter) must be neglected. The Rabbis counted every word and letter, and as their numbers were represented by their letters, they counted the numeration of all God names and titles, and all proper names, and the numeration of the phrases recording Divine commands.

The Hebrew letters and numbers were :
             Aleph             A                   1
            Beth               B, V               2
            Gimel             G, Gh            3
            Daleth            D, Dh            4
            Heh                H                   5
            Vau                O, U, V          6
            Zayin              Z                    7
            Cheth             Ch                  8
            Teth                T                   9
            Yod                 I, Y               10
            Kaph              K, Kh           20
            Lamed           L                   30
            Mem             M                  40
            Nun                N                  50
            Samekh         S                   60
            Ayin                Aa, Ngh      70

There were also several final letters, final K, 500; final M, 600; final N, 700; final P, 800; and final Tz, 900. Note that the Divine Name Jah, JH, numbered 15, and so in common usage the number 15 was always represented by 9 and 6, ThV, Teth and Vau.

The Kabalistic Rabbis granted the natural meaning of the words of the "Torah" or Law books of the Old Testament as a guide to a knowledge of proper conduct in life and as a proper reading for the Synagogue and home but they claimed that each verse and narrative, each law and incident, had also a deeper and concealed meaning of a Mystical character to be found by their calculations, conversions, and substitutions, according to their rules of Gematria, Notaricon, and Temura: the first name is of Greek origin, the second from the Latin, but the third was Hebrew and meant permutation, TMURH, from the root MUR,--changed.

The most famous Rabbi of the Seventeenth century named Menasseh ben Israel, compared the Books of Moses to the body of a man, the commentaries called Mishna to the soul, and the Kabalah he called the Spirit of the soul: "ignorant people may study the first, the learned the second, but the wisest direct their contemplation to the third"; he called the Kabalists,--divine theologians possessed of thirteen rules by which they are enabled to penetrate the mysteries with which the Scriptures abound.

Many Kabalists claimed that their doctrines and methods were brought down from Heaven by Angels to primeval man, and they all believed that the First Four Books of the Pentateuch enshrined their peculiar doctrines as well as narrated histories and laid down laws.

The Zohar says :--If these books of the Torah contain only the tales of, and the words of Esau, Hagar, Laban and Balaam, why are they called--The Perfect Law, The Law of Truth, The True Witness of God?--there must be a hidden meaning. "Woe be to the man who says that The Law (Torah) contains only common sayings and tales: if this were true we might even in our time compose a book of doctrine which would be more respected. No, every word has a sublime sense, and is a heavenly mystery. The Law resembles an angel: to come down on earth a spiritual angel must put on a garment to be known or understood here, so the Law must have clothed itself in a garment of words as a body for men to receive; but the wise look within the garments."

At some periods both the ordinary Jew and even Christian Fathers have made a somewhat similar declaration of a literal and a mystical meaning of scripture. The Talmud in book "Sanhedrin" remarks that Manasseh King of Israel asked whether Moses could not relate something of more value than tales of Timnah a concubine, and Rachel with her mandrakes, and he is answered that there is a concealed meaning in these narrations.

The Christian Father Origen (A.D. 253), in his "Homilies," wrote that everybody should regard these stories, the making of the world in six days, and the planting of trees by God,--as figures of speech under which a recondite sense is concealed. Origen granted a Three-fold meaning,--somatic, psychic, and pneumatic; or the body of scripture, its soul and its spirit.

Nicholas de Lyra who died in 1340 accepted four modes of interpretation; literal, allegoric, moral, and anagogic or mystical.

In this he nearly follows the scheme of the Zohar ii. 99: in which paragraph there is a parable comparing the Sacred Law to a woman in love who reveals herself to her friend and beloved: first by signs, ramaz; then by whispered words, derush; then by converse with her face veiled, hagadah; and at last she reveals her features and tells all her love, this is sod, association in secret, a mystery.

The late Dr. Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland were notable Kabalists who always insisted on the concealed meanings underlying the ordinary sense of the old Hebrew writings; and the late H. P. Blavatsky used to declare that the truly ancient texts of ancient religions were susceptible of explanations on seven planes of thought.

The Kabalists discovered deep meanings in each Hebrew letter, common and finals, and found secrets in large letters, misplaced letters and in words spelled in unusual manners. At different times they represented God by an Aleph, A; or by a Yod, I; or by a Shin; or by a Point; or by a Point within a circle; or even by a Triangle; and by a Decad of ten yods.

GEMATRIA was a mode of interpretation by which a name or word having a certain numerical value was deemed to have a relation with some other words having the same number; thus certain numbers became representative of several ideas, and were considered to be interpretative one of the other. For example, Messiah spelled, MShICh, numbered 358, and so does the phrase IBA ShILH, Shiloh shall come; and so this passage in Genesis 49 V. 10, was considered to be a prophesy of the Messiah: note that Nachash, NChSh, the Serpent of Moses, is also 358. The letter Shin, Sh, 300, became an emblem of divinity by corresponding with Ruach Elohim, RUCh ALHIM, the Spirit of the Living God.

NOTARICON, or abbreviation, is of two forms; one word is formed from the initial and final letters of one or more words; or the letters of one name are taken as the initials or finals of the words of a sentence. For example, in Deut. 30 V. 12, Moses asks, Who shall go up for us to Heaven? The initial letters of the original words MI IOLH LNV HShMILH, form the word MILH, mylah, which word means circumcision, and the final letters are IHVH, the name Jehovah: hence it was suggested that circumcision was a feature of the way to God in heaven. Amen, AMN is from the initials of Adonai melekh namen. "The Lord and faithful king"; and the famous Rabbinic word of power used for talismans AGLA is formed of the initials of the words "Ateh gibur leolam Adonai," "The Lord ever powerful," or Tu potens in saeculum Dominine.

TEMURA is a more complex procedure and has led to an immense variety of curious modes of divination: the letters of a word are transposed according to certain rules and with many limitations: or again, the letters of a word are replaced by other letters as arranged by a definite scheme, often shown in a diagram. For example, a common form was to write one half of the alphabet over the other in reverse order, and so the first letter A was replaced by the last T, and B by Shin, and so on.
On this plan the word Sheshak of Jeremiah 25 v. 26, is said to mean Babel: this permutation was known as ATBSh, atbash. On this principle we find twenty-one other possible forms named in order Albat, Abgat, Agdat: the complete set was called "The combinations of Tziruph." Other forms were rational, right, averse and irregular, obtained from a square of 22 spaces in each direction, that is of 484 secondary squares, and then putting a letter in each square in order up and down, and then reading across or diagonally, etc. Of this type is the so-called "Kabalah of Nine Chambers" of the Mark Masons.

A further development of the numerical arts was shown by the modes of Contraction and Extension; thus Jehovah, IHVH 26, was extended to IVD-HA-VV-HA, and so 10, 5, 6, 5 or 26 became 20, 6, 12, 6 or 44. By extension Zain, Z.7, became 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 or 28; or 28 was regarded as 2 and 8 or 10. The Tetragrammaton, Jehovah 26 was also at times regarded as 2 and 6 or 8: so El Shaddai, God Almighty, AL ShDI, 1, 30, 300, 4, 10, was 345 and then 12 and then 3, a Trinity. A quaint conceit was that of the change of the spelling of the names of Abraham and Sara: at first Abram ABRM and Sarai ShRI, became ABRHM and ShRH: they were 100 and 90 years old and were sterile: now H, Heh, was deemed of a fertile type, and so the letter H was added to ABRAM, and the Yod I, converted into an H of the name Sarai.

In the very old "Sepher Yetzirah" is found the allocation of letters to the planets; from this origin arose a system of designing talismans written on parchment or engraved on brass or gems: as each planet had a letter and a number, in regard to each was allotted a Magic Square of lesser squares; thus for Jupiter 4 was the number and Daleth the letter, and the Magic Square of Jupiter had 16 smaller squares within it; in each a number 1 to 16, and so each line added up to 34 and the total of numbers was 136.

Every Talisman duly formed bore at least one God name to sanctify it: notable names were IH, Jah; ALH, Eloah; then IHVH; then the notable 42 lettered Name, which was really composed of others,-- Aheie asher aheie (I am that I am) Jah, Jehuiah, Al, Elohim, Jehovah, Tzabaoth, Al Chai and Adonai.

The Shemhamphorash, or Separated Name, was a famous Word of Power; it was formed of Three times 72 letters: the words of three verses, 19, 20 and 21 of Exodus XIV. were taken: the separated letters of verse 19 were written down, then the letters of verse 20 in reverse order, then those of verse 21 in direct order: this gave 72 Names read from above down, each of 3 letters: to each was added either AL or IH, and so were formed the names of the 72 Angels of the Ladder of Jacob which led from earth to heaven: these names were often placed on the obverse and reverse of
medals or rolls of parchment to form 36 Talismans.

According to some Kabalists both King David and King Solomon were able to work wonders with Kabalistic Magical Arts: The Pentagram was called the Seal of Solomon, and the Hexagram was called the Shield of David; to the points of the former were assigned the Spirit and Four Elements, while to those of the latter were ascribed the Planets. The treatise called "The Clavicules of King Solomon" is of course a mediaeval fraud.

The Hebrew letters are also associated with the Twenty-two Trumps of the Tarot pack of cards; these cards have been much used for purposes of divination. The Gipsies of Southern Europe use these cards for Fortune-telling. The French author Court de Gebelin (1773-1782) declared that these Trump cards as mystical emblems were derived from the magic of Ancient Egypt. Occult Science allots each card to a Number, a Letter and a natural object or force,-the Planets, Zodiacal signs, elements, etc. "The Sanctum Regnum of the Tarot Trumps" edited by myself can be

Dr. Encausse of Paris, who writes under the pseudonym of "Papus," has also a work relating to the Tarots and gives a Kabalistic attribution of the Trump cards which Rosicrucians consider to be erroneous.

So far as is known to me the practice of Kabalah as a Magical Art is now almost restricted to Russian and Polish Rabbis, and to a few students of occultism in this country, some of whom constantly wear a Kabalistic talisman although they are Christians.

An Introduction to the Study of the Kabalah

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