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Chthonios Books focuses on scholarly research in western esoteric traditions. You might want to go directly to our Homepage, where you can find out about the best books in this and other fields, as well as read some online research and translations. Or browse awhile below.…
This page gives some background material and explains Chthonios’ approach to Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism. Other pages look at Ancient Philosophy and Neoplatonism I Ancient Religion and Paganism I Theurgy I Early Christianity and Gnosticism I Hermetica and Alchemy I Magic I Mediaeval & Renaissance Esotericism I Esoteric Traditions.
Esotericism is often thought of as a ‘third force’
in western thought, in contrast to biblical faith and Greek
philosophy (particularly that of Aristotle). Traditions in
thought and religion can be defined as ‘esoteric’ in
three ways :
I) In a general way they can be defined as special teachings or experiences reserved for an inner circle of initiates.
II) Another important perspective sees esoteric traditions as undercurrents in western thought and religion. Historically, the most important early streams here are the teachings of Pythagoras and Plato and their followers. Once dominant in Greco-Roman thought, they were pushed to the margins by the rise of Christian orthodoxy.
III) A third way of seeing western esotericism looks at the heterodox, unorthodox and heretical streams which flourished beneath the domination of Christian orthodoxy and normative Judaism.
Kabbalah (variously spelled and mis-spelled as cabala,
cabbala, qabbalah, quabbalah, kabbala) is the name given to
various Jewish mystical traditions which coalesced in the 12th
and 13th centuries to form a coherent system of mystical doctrine
and practice. The term kabbalah means ‘something
handed down by tradition.’ The influence of Neoplatonism on
Kabbalah, through Arabic intermediaries, is well known in
scholarly research. But one of the most intriguing questions in
Kabbalistic studies is the relationship of Kabbalah to
Gnosticism, because though there are many striking parallels
between the two traditions, there is an absence of any (extant)
direct historical links.
The most striking parallel I know of are the parsufim (faces, configurations) in Lurianic Kabbalah, which derive from the Idrot of the Zohar. The two I wish to examine here are Arikh Anpin (forebearing one = the sefirah Keter) and Ze’eir Anpin (short-tempered one = sefirot 4 - 9). These bear a strong resemblance, respectively, to the highest ‘unknown’ God in Gnosticism, and his/her lower counterpart in the demiurge; who is a harsh exacting figure at best, and often (in Gnosticism) actively negative. The parallel is particularly striking because the most sacred name of God in traditional Judaism, the famous Tetragrammaton YHWH, is not associated — as one would expect — with the highest sefirah-parsuf = Keter-Arikh, but with the oddly negative-sounding Ze’eir. (Arikh has the God-name Ehyeh, which derives from the famous passage in Exodus 3.14: Ehyeh asher ehyeh ‘I am who I am’). It is hard to think of this downgrading of the famous Tetragrammaton — the God-name par excellence of the Jewish scriptures — as originating in circles which held that name, and those scriptures, in the highest respect. Especially as it is associated with a rather negative aspect of deity in Ze’eir Anpin (‘short-tempered one’), and one who is suspiciously close to the Gnostic Demiurge.
Perhaps it is possible, after all, to imagine that those
famous Idrot (‘assemblies’) of the
Zohar, which have exerted such a fascination in esoteric
traditions, do have some sort of links with older materials, and
Moses de Leon wasn’t entirely lying when he claimed the
Zohar was based on more ancient sources. It is surely
possible that some Gnostic writings existed — or were
translated — into Aramaic, and that the early Kabbalists
(or their forebears) came across such materials, perhaps in a
muted form, and believed them to represent ancient esoteric
traditions about God.
This essay will be continued soon......
For more on ancient Neoplatonism, see now our online translations and commentaries on ancient texts. For more on Gnosticism, see the Gnosticism and Early Christianity page.
Below is a list of some important terms and people (with variant forms) from Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism which Chthonios specialises in. See also Ancient Philosophy and Neoplatonism and Early Christianity & Gnosticism.
Kabbalah — cabala, cabbala, qabbalah, quabbalah, kabbala, kabbalists, Jewish Mysticism, Sefer Yetsirah, Yetzirah, Yesirah, Shi’ur Komah, Qomah, Sefer Bahir, sepher, merkabah mysticism, merkavah mysticism, chariot mysticism, descent to the chariot, heikhalot traditions, hekhaloth, heavenly halls, Adam Kadmon, sefirot, sephiroth, gematria, Zohar, shekinah, golem, Lurianic Kabbalah, Abraham Abulafia, Isaac the Blind, Azriel of Gerona, Moses de Leon, Isaac Luria.
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