Monday, April 18, 2016

Is Qabalah Overrated?

My friend Frater Barrabbas posted an interesting question on Facebook the other day, essentially asking if Qabalah was overrated among magical practitioners. I use Qabalah extensively in my own practice, but at the same time I have seen plenty of people who take the system more literally than they should. So my qualified answer is both a yes and a no, depending upon how you approach it.

Qabalah as I use it is a map, plain and simple. It does not literally define the structure of the universe or anything like that. I'm not alone in this either - Aleister Crowley once commented that a student once told him that the Qabalah was the structure of the universe, and he responded by stating that such a notion was akin to asserting that a cat simply consisted of the letters C, A, and T arranged in a particular order.

For years, I've contemplated putting together a long and exhaustive post on how I believe that linguistics as a discipline is not only overrated by magical practitioners, but furthermore has practically nothing to do with magick as it is commonly practiced. Yes, I'm aware that "grammar" and "grimoire" have a common linguistic origin, just like "spelling" and "casting spells" do. But I am of the opinion that these linguistic conventions are simply based on popular misunderstandings of how magick works.

In the Middle Ages, relatively few people were literate, and magick was the domain of clergymen and aristocrats. This was because in order to learn magick from a book, you had to be able to read. And there have never been all that many magical practitioners around, so learning directly from a teacher was probably not an option in many cases. So it was only natural to associate reading - a linguistic pursuit - with the practice of magick. Language is important for the transmission of basic concepts and procedures, but once that information is internalized I remain convinced that it is practically irrelevant to getting magical results.

This is because magick, properly practiced, is the stuff of consciousness. Consciousness is not made up of words. This has always been clear to me because I don't think in words, but apparently there are a lot of people who do. If that's what your internal landscape looks like, I imagine it's an easy mistake to make. It might even be that a profoundly linguistic thinker might need to work through some internal dialog to access the states of consciousness employed in working magick. I'm just not one of them, and never have been.

That being said, one might think that I would find a system like Qabalah useless, but this is far from the case. I'll freely admit that the traditional Jewish form of Kabbalah involving deep meditation upon and analysis of particular scriptural passages doesn't do much for me. Hermetic Qabalah, though, which has diverged far and wide from its original roots, provides an extremely valuable map for accessing both microcosmic states of consciousness and macrocosmic spirits and other entities.

Liber 777, with its collection of names, symbols, colors, scents, and so forth provides my non-verbal mind with all the "handles" it needs to access the necessary states of consciousness for working magick. At the same time, I am also convinced that there is no "one true system" of symbolism. I think that it's far more important that you organize your mind coherently according to some system than that you pick one particular "best" set of associations. The fact is, though, that Liber 777 is one of the most comprehensive collections of attributions out there, and one of the most widely used.

The biggest advantage of this is that it gives you a common language for working with other practitioners in a group setting. I have no doubt that a practitioner could develop his or her own idiosyncratic system that would work perfectly well - and my understanding is that a lot of chaos magicians do just that and get good results. But this can become a problem if you ever decide to do a group working and want to make sure everyone is on the same page. If everybody knows the 777 attributions, your group is good to go. Otherwise, you may have to do a lot of explaining and translating between practitioners who use different systems.

So the big question, then, is what is Qabalah a map of? My answer is states of consciousness, which resonate with states of being in the macrocosmic universe. One of the more influential books on my perspective here is Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology, especially the charts in the back. Wilber makes a valiant attempt to show cross-correspondences between the teachings of many different spiritual systems in order to get at the states of consciousness that they are all trying to map - and the different systems, including Qabalah, do line up pretty well.

Wilber's work is not without problems. He tends to try and syncretize together the various schools of psychology, when we now know that some of them like Freudian psychoanalysis are pretty much completely wrong in their approaches to cognition. Also, as a magician you need to remember to read "magical" as "superstitious" and "psychic" as "magical," because that's the terminology Wilber prefers. Many of his basic points, though, resonate well with the lore of the Western Esoteric Tradition.

Barrabbas argues that the notion of "crossing the abyss" has produced far more paranoid, self-aggrandizing, and socially deficient people than it has wise and/or illuminated spiritual practitioners. I've seen the same online interactions that he has, and he has a good point. However, Wilber diagnoses this problem with what I consider to be great clarity, attributing the problems exhibited like wannabe Masters of the Temple to what he calls the pre/trans fallacy.

The issue is that prerational consciousness, characterized by superstition and paranoia, and transrational consciousness, characterized by authentic insight-wisdom, are both irrational and therefore easy to confuse with one another. You can experience your consciousness to be at one with the whole universe like a paranoid schizophrenic, who sees every little thing that happens as part of some non-existent plot, or like a genuine spiritual Master, who understands that on one level everything may be integrated into his or her field of awareness, but at the same time takes care not to confuse that level with the mechanics of mundane reality.

Paranoia is the best marker for this. If a would-be Master of the Temple is constantly whining about people plotting against him or her, acting out against perceived enemies, and so forth, their realization is probably not authentic. Think about people such as the Dalai Lama. He has plenty of real enemies, including the entire nation of China. But when have you ever heard him ranting like some of these so-called Masters? He doesn't; his speeches are all about compassion and the cultivation of happiness.

It seems to me that's how a real enlightened master would comport him or herself. I also know that I'm not like that at all, which means I'm no Master of the Temple. I have no idea if I ever will become one. But I do, I hope that if I start going off about how "Vatican warlock assassins" (like Charlie Sheen!) are tracking me and trying to kill me because I'm the only hope for the manifestation of the new aeon, somebody out there will slap the crap out of me. That's some pre/trans bullshit, for sure.

So to sum this all up, here's my response to Barrabbas' question:

1. Qabalah in no way literally describes the structure of the universe. If you think it does, you're overrating it.
2. As a map of consciousness, both microcosmic and macrocosmic, it's quite useful. If you approach it in that way, you're not overrating it at all.
3. It is not the "one true system," but when working in a group having everyone share the same map is helpful. Qabalah is probably the most widely used among Western esoteric practitioners.
4. If you think a self-proclaimed Master of the Temple is a paranoid nutball, he or she probably really is.

The reality is that I've spent so many years working with the Liber 777 Qabalistic correspondences that I would pretty much have to go back to the drawing board and start over if I wanted to replace them with something else. What I have works very well, so I see no real reason to do that. On the other hand, if Qabalah does nothing for you and you get better results with some other system, you shouldn't feel like you are somehow missing out on a "better" system. I'm not sure such a thing exists, except in the context of what works best for you as an individual practitioner.

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1 comment:

Nick Farrell said...

IT is a "yes" and "no" answer from me. Since I wrote my Shem Grimiore book I felt that side of my life is switched off. I can still use it, but I have been more focused on Cabbalah's Greek roots. I still train people in Hebrew cabbalah because you cant get to the conclusious I have on the pagan cabbalah without it. In many ways Hebrew cabbalah preserved the techniques which work better on pagan systems.