Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

Book II—Emanationists

"A changeful strife,

A glowing life,

I weave on the whirring loom of Time,

The living garments of the Deity."

—Goethe, Faust

I. The Cabbala

104. Its Origin.—The Cabbala (from the Hindoo Kapila, the inventor of the philosophy of numbers) is the summary of the labours of the sects of Judaism, and is occupied in the mystical interpretation of the Scriptures, and in metaphysical speculations concerning the Deity and the worlds visible and invisible. The Jews say that it was communicated to Moses by God Himself. Now, although it is not at all improbable that the writer, to whom history has given the name of Moses, did leave to his successors some secret doctrines, yet the fantastic doctrines of the Cabbala concerning angels and demons are purely Chaldean; at Babylon the Jews ingrafted on Monotheism the doctrine of the Two Principles. Daniel, the pontiff of the Magi and prophet of the Jews, may be considered as the chief founder of the Cabbala, which was conceived at Babylon, and received as the forbidden fruit of the strange woman.

The ancient Jews had some idea of angels, but did not ascribe to them any particular functions, though to each patriarch they assigned a special familiar spirit. The Alexandrian School made many additions to that foreign importation; Philo supplemented Daniel. The speculative portion of the Cabbala, whose foundation consists in the doctrine of Emanation, was developed in that School; the philosophical systems of Pythagoras and Plato were combined with Oriental philosophy, and from these proceeded Gnosticism and Neo-platonism.

105. Date of Cabbala.—The first documentary promulgation of the Cabbala may roughly be stated to have taken place within the century before and half a century after our era. The greater culture of the Jewish people, the supreme tyranny of the letter of the law and rabbinical minuteness, furthered the spread of occult theology, whose chief text-books are the "Sepher-yetzirah," or Book of the Creation, probably by Akiba, and the "Zohar," the Book of Light, attributed to Simon-ben-Joachai, the pupil of Akiba, consisting of fantastic commentaries on the books of Moses. What farrago the book contains may be inferred from the representation it gives of God. His head is that of a very old man, wearing one thousand millions and seven thousand curis of white wool; his beard is as white as snow, reaching to his navel, and has thirteen divisions, each of which comprises the greatest mysteries. The Jews did not become acquainted with it before the end of the thirteenth century. Akiba was a Jewish rabbi and teacher of the Mishna (107). He was executed for having taken part in the insurrection of Bar-Cochba (Son of the Star, Numb. xxiv. 17) in A.D. 135.

106. The Book of the Creation.—In this work Adam considers the mystery of the universe. In his monologue he declares the forces and powers of reason, which attempts to discover the bond which unites in a common principle all the elements of things; and in this investigation he adopts a method different from the Mosaic. He does not descend from God to the creation, but studying the universe, seeking the unity in variety and multiplicity, the law in the phenomenon, he ascends from the creation to God—a prolific method, but which leads the Cabbalists to seek fantastic analogies between superior and inferior powers, between heaven and earth, between the things and the signs of thought. Hence arose all the arts of divination and conjuration, and the most absurd superstitions.

According to Cabbalistic conception, the universe, which to Pythagoras is a symbol of the mysterious virtues of numbers, is only a marvellous page on which all existing things were written by the supreme artificer with the first ten numbers and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The ten abstract numbers are the general forms of things, the "supreme categories of ideas." Thus, number one represents the spirit of the living God, the universal generative power; number two is the breath of the animating spirit; three is the aqueous, and four the igneous principle. The imprint of the letters on the universe is indestructible, and is the only character that can enable us to discover the Supreme Cause, to recompose the name of God, the Logos, written on the face of the world. Nor are all the letters of equal Virtue; three, called the mothers, have the precedence, and refer to the triads found in various physical and mental orders; seven others are called double, because from them arise the things constantly opposed to one another; the remaining twelve are called simple, and refer to twelve attributes of man.

107. Different Kinds of Cabbala.—It is of two kinds, theoretical and practical. The latter is engaged in the construction of talismans and amulets, and is therefore totally unworthy of our notice. But it may be interesting to believers in modern charlatanism to know that this practical Cabbala was early employed in the production of spiritualistic phenomena; divining tables, furnished with a writing apparatus, were common in the days of Tertullian, as we learn from his Apology. One Frederick Brentz, a Jew converted to Christianity in 1610, explained, or tried to explain, in a book against his former co-religionists, how the Jews raised tables, with stones of several hundred-weights on them, by means of Cabbalistic conjuration. The theoretical Cabbala is divided into the literal and dogmatic. The dogmatic is the summary of the metaphysical doctrines taught by the Cabbalistic doctors; the literal is a mystical mode of explaining sacred things by a peculiar use of the letters of words. This literal Cabbala, called the Mishna, is again subdivided into three branches, the first considering words according to the numerical value of the letters composing them. This branch is called Gematria, and for an example of it the reader is referred to Mithras (30), the name of the sun, whose letters make up the number 365, the number of days during which the sun performs his course. The second branch is called Notaricon, and is a mode of constructing one word out of the initials or finals of many. Thus of the sentence in Deut xxx. 12, "Who shall go up for us to heaven? in Hebrew [], the initial letters of each word are taken to form the word "circumcision." The third mode is called Temura, or permutation of letters, such as is familiarly known as an anagram.

108. Visions of Ezekiel.—Cabbalistic terms and inventions, not destitute of poetic ideas, lent themselves to the requirements of the mystics, sectaries, and alchymists. It suffices to consider that portion of the system whose object is the study of the visions of Ezekiel, to form an idea of the fantastic and mythological wealth of the Cabbala. This branch of the Cabbala is called the Marcava.

In the visions of Ezekiel, God is seated on a throne, surrounded with strange winged figures—the man, the bull, the lion, and the eagle, four zodiacal signs, like "the glory which he saw by the river of Chebar," that is, among the Chaldeans, famous for their astronomical knowledge. The rabbis call the visions the description of the celestial car, and discover therein profound mysteries. Maimonides reduced those visions to the astronomical ideas of his time; the Cabbala surrounded them with its innumerable hosts of angels. Besides the angels that preside over the stars, elements, virtues, vices, passions, the lower world is peopled by genii of both sexes, holding a position between angels and men—the elemental spirits of the Rosicrucians. The good angels are under the command of Metatron, also called Sar Happanim, the angel of the Divine countenance. The evil angels are subject to Samual, or Satan, the angel of death. Besides the Indian metempsychosis the Cabbalists admit another, which they call "impregnation," consisting in a union of several souls in one body, which takes place when any soul needs the assistance of others to attain to the beatific vision.

109. The Creation out of Nothing.—The primitive Being is called the Ancient of Days, the ancient Ring of Light, incomprehensible, infinite, eternal, a closed eye. Before he manifested himself all things were in him, and he was called The Nothing, the Zero-world. Before the creation of the world the primitive light of God, Nothing, filled all, so that there was no void; but when the Supreme Being determined to manifest His perfections, He withdrew into Himself, and let go forth the first emanation, a ray of light, which is the cause and beginning of all that exists, and combines the generative and conceptive forces. He commenced by forming an imperceptible point, the point-world; then with that thought He constructed a holy and mysterious form, and finally covered it with a rich vestment—the universe.

From the generative and conceptive forces issued forth the first-born of God, the universal form, the creator, preserver, and animating principle of the world, Adam Kadmon, called the macrocosm; whilst man, born out of and living in it, and comprising, in fact, what the typical or celestial man comprises potentially, is called the microcosm. But before the Ensoph or Infinite revealed Himself in that form of the primitive man, other emanations, other worlds, had succeeded each other, which were called "sparks," which grew fainter the more distant they were from the centre of emanation. Around Adam Kadmon were formed the countless circles of posterior emanations, which are not beings having a life of their own, but attributes of God, vessels of omnipotence, types of creation. The ten emanations from Adam Kadmon are called Sephiroth, the "powers" of Philo, and the "aeons" of the Gnostics.

110. Revival of Cabbalistic Doctrines.—As among Christians the Apocalypse, so among Jews the Cabbala has always had its devoted students. Such a one was Lobele (d. 1609), who was chief rabbi at Prague, and considered such a saint, that no being born of woman was thought fit to wait on him; he was attended by a servitor produced by magic, or a slave formed of clay. Being deeply versed in all the mysteries of the Cabbala, he was endowed with supernatural powers, but he, wisely perhaps, kept his knowledge to himself; he did not even have pupils. But about the middle of the last century Jacob Franck, originally a distiller in Poland, collected around him a crowd of Jewish followers in Podolia, who, abjuring rabbinical dogmatism, adopted the mystical teaching of the Cabbala. The book Zohar (105) was the basis of their doctrines, whence they were called Zoharists, the Illuminated. The Roman Catholic clergy, who in these doctrines saw an approach to Christianity, at first protected them; but on the death of the Bishop of Podolia they were persecuted by the rabbis, so that they had to disperse, and Franck himself was imprisoned until 1773, when he was released by the Russians. He then tried to establish himself at Vienna, but being driven thence found a refuge at Offenbach, near Frankfort, where he gathered many followers, and lived in great style, as he received liberal subsidies from the Jews. He died in 1791, when the society was dissolved; a few remnants may still be found in Poland, where they are known as Christian Jews. They form a kind of religious order, practising certain Jewish rites, and professing mystical doctrines, kept secret from outsiders.

Another Cabbalistic sect was formed about the same time (1740) by Israel of Podolia, calling themselves the "New Saints"; they professed to work miracles by using the Cabbalistic name of Jehovah. Israel had great success, and left forty thousand followers.

Frederick Bahrdt and C. Frederick Nicolai, the former in his "Introduction" to Cornelius Agrippa's Cabbala, and the latter in his "Travels through Germany and Switzerland", 1781, both mention the Cabbala of the Capuchin Father Tertius of Ratisbon, written in Latin, which he utilised for fortune-telling. A somewhat similar Cabbala was published (circa 1790) in the "Delphic Oracle," edited by Professor K. [anne?].

"For Humbug never waneth

When Folly lends its help."

The Cabbala was estimated at its true value by the Jesuit Pererius (1535-1610), who in his book "De Magia" calls it an "unscientific, silly, and ridiculous system." And yet in the last quarter of this century Alphonse Louis Constant, who wrote under the pseudonym of Eliphas Levi Zahed a number of books which are highly esteemed by modern students of "occult" matters, performed, by means of Cabbalistic power, the ceremonial evocation of Apollonius of Tyana, and was patronised, among other people of note, by Lord Lytton, who had him down to Knebworth! Some forms of superstition do die hard.