In previous times the alchemists who were not simply interested in the chemical (lab) side of alchemy, but who were initiates focused on personal, spiritual development, very likely studied Qabala as the source of theory concerning inner or psycho-spiritual alchemy.
I might base this claim on two ideas, about Qabala, that are relatively well known. First, that Qabala itself is a very alchemical philosophy. For example, if we read MacGregor Mathers 'Qabala Unveiled', which is a commentary on the respected Qabalistic text the Sepher Ha Zohar, we can see in a couple of places where Mathers points out the comparison between Qabalistic ideas and alchemy. Secondly, it is also well known that the Bible was originally written by men who were by their nature trained Qabalists. So the Bible is known to be full of Qabalistic ciphers and ideas. At the same time most people who have studied alchemy know the Bible is full of allusions to alchemical concepts, and we also know that for a long period of history the Hebrews possessed a well developed and healthy alchemical tradition. So there is a lot of cross fertilization between classic Hebrew Qabala and alchemical thought and practice.
I should point out, though, that today most Western students of the occult, who study Qabala as a normal part of an interest in 'high magic', have very much been trained to think of Qabala as largely a magical system. So the idea that it is centrally alchemical might be very new to a lot of people, even if they don't entirely doubt the idea that Qabala contains alchemical concepts.
Now, it is my belief (based on my experience) that the main reason why the old alchemists turned to Qabala as the main source of information that was of help to them in studying and practicing inner alchemy, was because at the heart of the Qabalistic system is a teaching concerning what we might call Qabalistic psychology. That teaching lays down instruction that discusses both the structure of the mind, and how that structure functions, and I will now explain how that is so.
Many modern Western Qabalists agree that one of the best places to go for information on Qabala is the teaching of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. If you are reading this and you do not have a good knowledge of the Golden Dawn system of Qabala, I recommend buying a copy of Israel Regardie's book 'A Garden of Pomegranates', which provides a good detailed description of all the fundamental ideas associated with Golden Dawn Qabala.
What the founders of the Golden Dawn system did was they took the key texts of Qabala, the Sepher Ha Zohar and the Sepher Ha Yetzirah, and they stripped away most of the religious and political teaching that the Hebrews have bunched together with the core occult teaching in Qabala. This is done with the intention of getting back to a more-or-less non-sectarian view of the real core ideas that Qabala teaches. This 'less Hebrew' form of the Golden Dawn Qabala is often referred to as Hermetic Qabala, because it is the style of Qabala most often studied by modern Western students of Hermetism.
The first place the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn starts to teach its students about Qabala is in its 'Knowledge Lectures'. As a new G.D. student works his way through the outer grades of the G.D. system he gets one Knowledge Lecture per grade he takes. In the Fifth Knowledge Lecture we see for the first time the basis Golden Dawn system of Qabalistic psychology. In that system the mind is divided in to six main functions … which we should refer to as the six primary “intelligences” of the mind (the Hebrew-Qabalistic term is Partzufim). A list of these intelligences looks like this, from the highest and most spiritual level of the mind down to its lowest level:
Zauir Anpin is also called Meleck (King), and Kalah is also called Malkah (Queen), which is good to keep in mind, because we will see that this King and Queen are the same King and Queen regularly described in classic alchemy.
These are all very official sounding titles, and at first might seem a bit hard to understand. But if we translate them in to modern concepts it is a system which we quickly can grasp because these ideas are actually quite commonly recognised.
Qabalists also give these intelligences many other names, but amongst them is a list of names that actually explains their functions, thus:
It should now be obvious that what we have here is the system I have based the diagram on from my previous essay (Essay 9 - Initiation). So it is a good idea to refer to that diagram while reading what I say below.
Qabala divides the mind firstly in to two levels or triads of existence. The upper level, which I call the Higher functions, which is composed of the Unified Mind, Wisdom and Understanding. This is the eternal part of us that exists deep within us, and survives the death of the lower mind. The Lower functions which are composed of the triad Ruach (the thinker), Nephesch (the feeler) and Nachash (the binary function).
Now, to cut a very complex and long story short, in explain what these functions are, I will explain them in the simplest way I know how.
Before you were born your consciousness resided in your Neschamah (-3). This is what Qabalists refer to as the 'Presence' of the divine. That is, the manifestation of your Highest Self. Like its spiritual body (non-physical). Neschamah is also known by descriptors such as Higher Soul, Higher Intelligence, the Reconciler, etc. Then, as you are born your consciousness crosses the line 'e' (see Diagram 4 from Essay 9) and incarnates in the physical body. The first 'mental' function that forms there is the Nachash. This is like the base-function of the human mind. For computer geeks this is like the BIOS (basic input-output system). The Nachash is what I have called the binary function, because it creates and sustains the two-ness of physical life, that is required to maintain physical existence (look back into my earlier lecture where I talk about the basis of physical reality and the binary manifestation of the unity function).
So your consciousness comes in to your physical body and already there is a mental function that maintains the 'condition' (binary function) that makes it possible for you to exist here. The first 'expression' of that binary manifestation of the mind is the Nephesch (lower soul). This is the Neschamah 'fallen' into physical existence. In modern language we would call this the unconscious mind. This is the part of your mind where all the information about what you are is stored (see my previous discussion on the idea of the memory of nature and the anima mundi). The blue print of your physical body is stored in the Nephesch and that blueprint tells your foetus how to make new cells, and how their tasks must be established. This is the information that tells your fetal body how to grow and function. So Nephesch contains a memory of literally millions of years of human biological evolution. From her seat in the mind your heart beat is maintained, body temperature is maintained, digestion is regulated, and cell birth, life and death are maintained (for example). All of these bodily functions are part of the memory of nature and regulate your biology automatically from behind the scenes (unconsciously). This part of the mind (your Nephesch) kicks in to work, we might understand, while your body is immersed in a 'Watery' environment (this is an important alchemical idea).
Then as soon as the initial growing stage is complete you are ready to be born, you pop out of your mother into the world, take your first breath if 'Air' and your Ruach is born right at that moment. Your Ruach is the second pole of the mind-binary. The Ruach is the Chiah 'fallen' into physical existence.
The Nachash creates this binary. It is the basis of this binary. And that binary is made up of (-5) Nephesch, and (+4) Ruach. This is the lower triad of the mind established.
As soon as your Ruach is created (as a kind of blank thinking machine) you begin to start noticing things about the world you have been born in to. Ruach in Hebrew means 'Spirit' or Pneuma (Air), by the way. Now every sensation that your body is exposed to, through your five senses, is recognised by the Ruach and that recognition is recorded (remembered) by the Nephesch. As you grow and develop everything in the world you are exposed to is 'seen' by Ruach, and 'remembered' by Nephesch. In this way you build up an enormous data base about every single thing in this world that you come across.
This 'sense and remember' process begins with what you know about your Mother. Because she is the first thing you experience. Because your Nephesch is the feminine pole of your mental binary, what your Nephesch is programmed in to understanding about what a woman is, first comes from your observations about your mother. Then, about your sisters (if you had any), and then from observations about other women. This is how your Nephesch 'learns' what 'woman' is all about. So at the very root of your human mind, what you 'believe' about the 'idea' of woman comes from what you observed about women as a tiny baby.
Likewise, your Ruach is the masculine pole of the mind, and it observes and records everything about 'man' from your Father, first, then your brothers, and then other men who come into your life. This is how your Ruach learns what the idea of a man is.
This of course is the rule, but there are exceptions to how all of this works. But I'm not going into that complicated explanation here. For now we are looking at the ideal situation.
So, here you are, observing your world with your Ruach (the Ruach is the part of your mind which observes the outside world, thinks about it, and forms judgments about it), and its observations are being remembered by Nephesch. The kind of person you end up being, as you grow older, then, almost entirely depends on what you personally think about the things in life you observe. Your 'interpretation' of life. And how you interpret the things in your environment is based on what your Mother (first) and Father (second) and siblings, then close family friends, told you and showed you about reality.
That is a tree. That is a dog. That car is blue. That man is bad. That girl is pretty. Those people in that country are not good. Etc, etc. The ideas that are most often repeated to you in your formative years become like hard wired programming in your mind's operating system. That programming is hidden deep in your unconscious, and affects most things you do in life. The other thing that has a huge impact on how you deal with life is trauma. For example, if the first time you came across water in your life you fell in and almost drowned, the recorded memory you retain in your Nephesch will be dysfunctional, and is likely to affect your attitude about water for the rest of your life. This is one way phobias are created. It is also how psychotics and socio-paths are created (for example). They experience something in their early life that then affects and distorts their later development.
In this way, this is roughly how a human individual is built and functions. Up until about the age of seven the Ruach largely only takes in information, and doesn't really 'think' about it. (There is no filter until seven, so it largely accepts everything it is shown and told, at face value). But at around seven years the Ruach changes, and it starts to think about what it has learned, and what it is learning, and it forms its own judgments about these things. Now, instead of just sensory observations being recorded in the Nephesch (and affecting behaviour) we start to also record our own thoughts and judgments, and these personal thoughts and judgments help to form our 'individual' world view … our personal philosophy of life. Remembering, though, that when this new Ruach phase begins, it is almost always influenced by what is already inside the Nephesch (early childhood programming).
From the above description we should be able to see that the view of life we have is mostly an inherited view. It is, on a macrocosmic scale, a meme. Almost as deeply inherited as our genes are. This is why a number of philosophers say that our view of the world is a view of shared consensus. It is (roughly) a vision of reality we all agree upon.
In early childhood, as we learn more, and our observational and judgment skills develop, the 'link' (7 - in Diagram 4) we have with the Higher Functions becomes unconscious. We might say, in the way of an analogy, like the umbilical cord that is cut and separates us from the womb at birth, this cord to the Higher Functions becomes deeply hidden inside us during childhood. With different people the severing of the link with the Higher Functions happens more or less slowly. By adolescence in most of us awareness of that connection is entirely unconscious. But the fact it still exists, to a greater or lesser degree, in early childhood, explains why many children have psychic experiences. Later in life (we might note) many occultists will claim that they have a special connection with the occult, because of childhood interest in things spiritual. But the truth is in most cases this is not a sign of special connection with the occult. It is simply a lingering expression of a state of awareness that existed before birth.
So up to this point in my explanation, this describes how the average person becomes an average person, with all his or her quirks of nature … and his or her focus and reliance on physical life. Deep in our unconscious mind our Higher Functions still operate and affect what we are, but we are almost entirely unaware of this part of ourselves. Our developing life in the physical increasingly forces our attention on to physical existence, and the struggle for survival in life.
In this way our Ruach has the job of observing the world (aka: objective awareness), and making judgments about the world so we can learn to survive here. At the same time our Nephesch (subjective function) saves all those observations and judgments in our memory for later access, and as a means of designing and creating our world (re: the anima mundi function).
A deeply important part of this mind machine is the Nachash, The binary function. Its job, all through our life, as we develop, is to maintain the two-ness view of everything we come across. Because of this, whenever we experience trauma, it is the Nachash which specifically stores those memories, because trauma is associated with fear, and fear is a powerful 'divider'. At the same time, every single conflict we experience in our lives, no matter how big or small, is a conflict that is either created or maintained by the Nachash. Because conflict is a powerful 'divider'. Every opposition we have about something. Every disagreement we have about things. Every dislike we hold about things … all these things create and maintain division in our world, and in our world view.
These divisions maintain the binary illusion of existence, but they also stimulate the urge to learn, to find solutions to problems, and to find harmony and balance in life. For without division there is no recognition of or urge toward balance. This is an extremely important concept, that exists at the very core of what we are as humans, and which, as we shall see … is the root of our eventual desire to complete our need for binary existence, and once again find harmony and Higher Understanding. To discover alchemy, and to use that mechanism to evolve ourselves away from a need for extreme division in our lives, back to unity (the Stone of the Philosophers).
The kinds of ideas I have explained so far are ideas that the old Qabalists would have been well aware of. We know this today because, although, unlike myself, who has just explained these ideas in clear language, the old Qabalists saw these ideas as big secrets, so they recorded their knowledge of them in veiled stories. That is, they cunningly designed stories which often look on the surface like historical records, but had hidden in them ciphers and allegories, which explained stages of human development, and specific ideas about psycho-spiritual functions. Then they scattered these stories through their religious and mystical writings, assuring themselves that only people who had been trained to tell which stories were significant, and how to decipher them, could understand their inner meaning. A good example of this type of information record and transmission can be seen in Arthur Edward Waite's book 'The Holy Kabbalah' (which is another commentary on the Zohar).
So now that we have established what aa normal average human is, and how he or she got that way, what role does initiation play? … and how does it come in to play?
This essay was first published on the Hermetic Alchemy Forum on 22 April 2013, as post #122.
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