The Theosophists of the Middle Ages drew their occult knowledge from two streams of thought which, long before, had sprung from a common source. One of these streams was the Hermetic philosophy, the other was the Kabala. In our modern dictionaries the Kabala is defined as “the mystic Theosophy of the Hebrews.” The prominent Kabalistic writer, Dr. Christian D. Ginsburg, speaks of it as a system of religious philosophy, or Theosophy, which not only exercised a powerful influence upon the Jews for hundreds of years, but also captivated the minds of some of the greatest thinkers of Christendom.
What is known today as the Kabala is a highly complex system having four distinct divisions. The first, or practical Kabala, deals principally with ceremonial magic. The second division, or the literal Kabala, is subdivided into three sections: (1) the Gematria, which discusses the numerical value of Hebrew words; (2) the Notaricon, which treats of the formation of words; and (3) the Temura, which deals with the relationship between words. The third division is the unwritten, or secret Kabala, which is always transmitted orally. The fourth is the dogmatic Kabala, which consists of four sections: (1) the Sepher Jetzirah, or Book of Formation; (2) the Sepher Sephiroth, which unfolds the Doctrine of Emanations; (3) the Asch Metzareph, which treats of the science of Alchemy; and (4) the Zohar, or Book of Splendor. The Zohar itself has five sections: (1) the Sepher Dzeniouta, or Book of the Concealed Mysteries; (2) the Idra Rabba, or Greater Holy Assembly; (3) the Idra Suta, or Lesser Holy Assembly; (4) the Beth-Elohim, or House of the Gods; and (5) the Book of the Revolutions of Souls.
The traditional origin of the Kabala closely resembles the opening sentences of the fourth discourse of The Bhagavad-Gita. According to the account, the Kabala is divine Wisdom which was first taught by God to a company of angels. Adam caught glimpses of these truths and passed his vision on to Noah. Noah communicated it unto Abraham, who in turn taught it to the Egyptians. Moses gained his knowledge in Egypt and passed it on to his seventy elders. From them the Kabala was transmitted orally until the year A.D. 80, when some of the teachings were committed to writing. At this point tradition stops and actual history begins. And from that history we can complete Krishna’s sentence and say: “In the course of time the mighty art was lost.”
The actual origin of the Kabala is somewhat different. At the beginning of our Fifth Race, about one million years ago, the knowledge which had been accumulated by thousands of generations of initiated Adepts was recorded in written form. The language used was Senzar, the secret sacerdotal tongue which preceded Sanscrit and was known to the Initiates from time immemorial. Among the scriptures drawn from this primeval source were the Chaldean Book of Numbers, the Sepher Dzeniouta and the Sepher Jetzirah. These books form the basis of the written Kabala. The unwritten, secret, or orally transmitted Kabala belonged to the Chaldees or Magi, those great Aryan Adepts who came to Babylonia thousands of years before the Jews settled in that country, and who, according to a statement made by one of the Theosophical Mahatmas, “were at the apex of their occult fame before what you term the Bronze Age.” Abraham gained his knowledge of the Kabala from the Chaldees while he was living in the city of Ur. Moses acquired his in Egypt when he was a priest of the Sun, living in the city of Heliopolis.
The first person to be initiated by Moses was his elder brother Aaron, whose name heads the list of initiated Nabaiim, or Prophets. From that time on, Schools of the Prophets began to appear in the countries inhabited by the Jews. In these schools every branch of science was taught, the study of Alchemy forming an important part of the curriculum. They were also Schools of the Mysteries, where the probationers were subjected to the same rigorous form of discipline as the Eastern Chela. Those who had passed through their final initiation were known as the Innocents, the Infants, or the “Little Ones.”
The first Jews to call themselves Kabalists were the Tanaiim, who lived in Jerusalem about the beginning of the third century B.C. Two centuries later three important Jewish Kabalists appeared. The first was Jehoshuah ben Pandira, now known as Jesus the Christ. The second was the great Chaldean teacher Hillel. The third was Philo Judaeus, in whose writings we find a clear statement of the three fundamental propositions of Theosophy. He defined God as an “Idea free of all mixture, devoid of all combination, which pervades everything and fills the entire Universe.” Within that unlimited and unnameable Principle, he said, “is an eternal and immutable Law which is the strong and lasting support of the Universe.” In regard to man, Philo wrote that “Man is the noblest of all creatures by reason of the higher element, the Soul, which is pure in its essence, the faithful image and copy of the Eternal Idea.” (De. Decal. xxv.)
During the siege of Jerusalem in the year 80 A.D., an Adept-Rabbi, Simon ben Jochai by name, escaped from the city and hid himself in a cave, where he remained for twelve years. After his death two of his disciples, Rabbi Eliezar and Rabbi Abba, collected some of the manuscripts he had left and compiled them into a book. This was the original Zohar.
For the next thousand years the Kabala was studied in secrecy and silence. But in the eleventh century Rabbi Ibn Gebirol (also known as Avicebron) produced two important Kabalistic works: the Fons Vitae, and the Kether Malchuth, the latter being a superb poem indicating the impersonality of the First Great Principle:
Thou art ONE, and Thy Unity is never diminished, never extended, and cannot be changed. Thou art ONE, and no thought of mine can fix for Thee a limit, or define Thee. Thou ART, but not as one existent, for the understanding and vision of mortals cannot attain to Thy existence, nor determine for Thee the where, the why and the how.
In the twelfth century the Theosophical Doctrine of Emanations was introduced by Rabbi Isaac the Blind and his pupil Rabbi Azariel ben Menachem, and in the thirteenth century a second Zohar appeared, this one compiled by the Spanish Rabbi Moses de Leon. After the appearance of this Zohar, the Kabalistic teachings were taken up by the Christians, the first Christian to call himself a Kabalist being Raymond Lully. Since that time virtually everyone connected with the work of the Theosophical Movement seems to have been a student of Hebrew philosophy. As men like Sir Isaac Newton, Spinoza and Leibnitz drew attention to the Kabala, the number of its students steadily increased, and when H.P.B. came on the scene there were hundreds of kabalistic students scattered about in Europe and America, many of whom became members of the Theosophical Society.
The present-day Kabala contains many Theosophical teachings. The Sepher Dzeniouta opens with the words: “The Book of the Concealed Mysteries is the Book of the Equilibrium of Balance.” This refers to the Point in the Circle, which “hangeth in that region which is negatively existent.” That region is described as Ain-Soph, the “Boundless” or “Limitless.” Within Ain-Soph the Primordial Point, Sephira, appears. Sephira, by dividing itself into two parts, emits Chochmah, the male potency, and Binah, the female potency.
The first three Sephiroth are purely intellectual in metaphysics. They express the absolute identity of existence and thought, and form what the modern Kabalists call the intelligible world.—(Franck: Die Kabbala.)
From this primordial Trinity seven emanations issue, each emanation differing in its degree of perfection in proportion to its distance from the Supreme Power. According to the Kabala, matter is merely the most remote effect of this emanative energy.
The story of the successive attempts to form universes, which is fully discussed in The Secret Doctrine, appears also in the Zohar:
There were old worlds which perished as soon as they came into existence, were formless and were called sparks. The sparks are the primordial worlds which could not continue, because the Sacred Aged had not yet assumed its form of King and Queen (which occurred in the Third Race) and the Master (the reincarnating Ego) was not yet at work.—(Idra Suta.)
Many Kabalists have taught the Theosophical tenet that man was hermaphrodite in the early part of the Third Race. Some of them say that man was created with a male and a female body which were joined together at the shoulders. Others say that the separation of the sexes occurred during the “sleep of Adam.” The Kabalists also say that man is a seven-fold being, and in Myer’s Kabala a definite Hebrew name is given to each of the seven principles, corresponding perfectly with the Sanscrit names used in Theosophical literature. The doctrine of Reincarnation is also a Kabalistic teaching. In the second book of the Zohar the soul pleads for freedom from rebirth, saying that she does not wish to be returned to earth where she will again be subjected to all sorts of pollutions. But the soul is informed that she will be reborn even against her will.
In the third book of the Zohar the fate of the soul who has broken her connection with her Higher Self is graphically described: “All souls which have alienated themselves from the Holy One have thrown themselves into an abyss, and have anticipated the time when they are to descend once more upon the earth.”—(Idra Suta.)
The cycle of rebirths which every soul, under the law of Karma, must experience, is described in the Kabala under the term Gilgoolem. Philo Judaeus shows that the doctrine of Reincarnation was accepted by the Kabalistic Jews in the first century B.C.: “The air is full of souls; those who are nearest to earth descending to be tied to mortal bodies return to other bodies, desiring to live in them.”—(De Somniis.)
It is quite apparent that the written Kabala of the present day contains numerous Theosophical teachings. But an important question arises: Is the real Kabala contained in the books now known by that name?
The word Kabala comes from the root Q B L, which means “to receive.” This suggests that the true Kabala is no mere book or collection of books, but rather a system which has been passed down orally from one generation of Initiates to the next. According to the teachings of Theosophy, the Kabala is not merely one system, but consists of seven systems which may be applied in seven different ways, providing seven interpretations to any given esoteric subject. The real Kabala, therefore, is not available to the public. The book which contains the fullest record of these seven systems is the Oriental Kabala. There is only one copy of this book in existence, and that is in the hands of those Initiates who, at the present day, are the only genuine Kabalists, and out of whose possession it is not likely to come.
Students of Theosophy know that no Great Teacher has left his esoteric instructions in books which are available to the public. The Hebrew Initiates were bound by the same pledge of secrecy as all other Initiates. As Simon ben Jochai was an Adept-Rabbi, and therefore bound by the Sodalian Oath not to reveal the Mysteries to the world at large, it is quite apparent that even the original Zohar could not have divulged those Mysteries, whatever else it may have revealed. As for the second Zohar of Moses de Leon, it is known that he was helped in his compilation by a number of Syrian and Chaldean Christian Gnostics, and that it passed through many other Christian hands in the course of time. This second Zohar is only a little less exoteric than the Old Testament itself.
Is there really any printed book which contains the real Kabala? The Oriental Kabala, the only book which contains a complete record of the seven systems, is in the hands of Eastern Initiates, and therefore not available to the public. Nor is the Chaldean Book of Numbers, which forms the hidden basis of the written Kabala, now procurable. Only two or three copies of this book are extant, and they are in the hands of private individuals. A Chinese Kabala, called the Yih-King, is said to have been written in 2850 B.C. in the dialect of the Akkadians, those early Aryan immigrants who first civilized Babylonia and made it a center of Sanscrit learning. Who at the present time has access to this work? An important Vatican manuscript of the Kabala is said to have been possessed by the Count de St. Germain. Where is it today?
Many students are eager to learn the esoteric meaning of Hebrew philosophy. But although one may read all the books of the Kabala in the original, and then the numberless commentaries, in the end he can only find himself utterly confused by the many different translations of the texts, by the veils deliberately thrown over the archaic doctrines and by the ignorance of profane writers. Many clues to the Hebrew Mysteries will be found in the writings of the medieval Kabalists, but they can yield little accurate information unless the student possesses the key.
Where can this key be found?
H.P.B. once made an interesting statement which should give pause to all would-be students of the Kabala. She said that she was the only Kabalist in America. Perhaps the student will find what he is seeking if he turns to her voluminous writings for information. If he perseveres in his search, learning to read between the lines and within the words, he will find three keys to the Mysteries. As for the rest—
The last four keys of the seven that throw wide open the portals to the mysteries of Nature are in the hands of the highest Initiates, and cannot be divulged to the masses at large—not in this, our century, at least.—(The Secret Doctrine, II, 517.)