Other Influences on Kabbalah
Widely practised in ancient Assyria and Babylonia, numerology allocated sacred numbers to the gods and goddesses from earliest historical times (e.g. 30 for the Moon God Sin, who ruled the planetary pantheon in the night sky and gave his name to Sinai). When alphabetic writing was introduced, the letters served a dual purpose as arithmetical signs. Thus Jewish and Greek Kabbalah involved the finding of different words with the same total value. These equivalents were held to aid the mystical interpretation of scripture. Three different types of numerology developed, Notarikon, Temura and Gematria. Pythagoras and the author of Revelation famously used numerology.
There is nothing New Age about this subject. Mesopotamians loved angels and feared demons. Before modern medicine, demons were blamed for such disasters as disease and child mortality. A hierarchy of archangels and angels developed. These were allocated to sefiroth on the Tree of Life. Guardian Angels face the Tree of Life in the Assyrian palace reliefs on show at the British Museum. Angels feature in the Holy Books of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The Mesopotamians excelled at astronomy and mathematics. A diviner/astrologer was called a tupsharru and worked for the King. The career was hereditary and each tupsharru was trained by his father. This service was a powerful incentive to develop better astronomy. In Kabbalah, they related the sefiroth to planets. They come down the Tree of Life in the Chaldean Order of planets, or slowest to fastest. However, the original Assyrian Order was slightly different, e.g. Professor Parpola assigns Tifereth to Ishtar (Venus) whereas later Kabbalah assigns Tifereth to Shamash (the Sun). I believe that the planetary correspondences were extremely important and may well have been the first correspondences assigned to sefiroth, after the sobriquet of the god which named the sefirah in question.
Doctrine of correspondences
This was a Babylonian and Indian custom but found in many other cultures. Each god had a particular stone, plant, colour, etc assigned to it. It is a fundamental tool of astrology and Kabbalah. Modern writers have added many more correspondences. Number is a common basis for the system, e.g. 7 planets, days of the week, musical notes etc; or the 12 months, zodiac signs, tribes of Israel etc. The belief is that there is some kind of supernatural connection, vibration, resonance or suchlike, which links them.
The writings of both Christian and Pagan Gnostics about 2,000 years ago are thought to have influenced certain Jewish intellectuals who studied Kabbalah. The doctrine of the descent of spirit into matter, the need to seek God empirically through personal experience and knowledge (as opposed to taught knowledge), and the need to redeem the world through good actions, are themes which are shared by both Gnosis and Kabbalah. Gnosis means knowledge. Famously the words “Gnothi Seauton,” or Know Thyself, were inscribed at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. Gnosis is closely related to Hermeticism, the mystic tradition ascribed to Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus. In fact many Gnostic texts have been found in Egypt.
Karma and reincarnation
Kabbalists have long been open to such beliefs. You are responsible for your actions and should take care over actions, words and wishes. Your spirit may live in more than one body, or a piece of the original soul may be split off. This may explain the phenomenon of “child prodigies” and many documented instances of apparent “past life recall”. Reincarnation was unknown in Judaism until the 8th century, yet is referred to in many passages of the Zohar (13th century). This is an important fact in the controversial issue of dating the Zohar, which is perhaps the most important book of Jewish Kabbalah. The Hasidim believe strongly in reincarnation and give examples of Hasidic Masters who recalled past lives. Otherwise reincarnation is believed in by very few modern Jews. Yet it would be rare for an Orthodox Jew to reject it outright. The doctrine continues to be important in Hinduism and the Druze (an Ismaili-offshoot religious sect, founded in the 11th century in the Lebanon and also found in Israel and Syria; influenced by Gnosticism).
Subsequent to the first appearance of tarot cards in Northern Italy in the early 15th century, some students of Kabbalah have tried to assign Tarot correspondences to the sefiroth (ten cards in each suit matching ten sefiroth) and the Trumps on the twenty-two paths between them (using the letters of the Hebrew alphabet). However, there is no evidence whatsoever that such links were intended by the original card designers. Further, a variety of systems of attribution have developed, just as there are a variety of ways of drawing the Tree of Life diagram. Therefore, the project is one of doubtful merit, at first sight. A more historically-based approach would surely strip away such later accretions. Visual meditations on the paths, which use such image correspondences from the tarot, and are known as “path-workings”, may have some psychological merit, independently of such issues.
© 2008, Ian Freer. All rights reserved.