Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 13, Vol. 2. Vernal Equinox 2007
A Sacred Geometry within the Book of Creation
The Sefer Yetzirah, or “Book of Creation”, is a magico-mystical text within the corpus of Jewish esoteric literature. Though knowledge of this pre-Kabbalistic text is purported, by the Sefer Yetzirah itself, to reside and have been used by the patriarch Abraham, its composition is more typically relegated to between the third and sixth centuries C.E.,  with commentary appearing by the 10th century. The text itself is quite short, consisting of between 1300 to 2500 words, depending on the version, and is as obscure in meaning as it is short. It, for instance, presents its reader with ideas such as “sefiort belimah” or “sefirot of nothing” or “closed sefirot” possibly even “ideal sefirot”, while associating the idea of “sefirot” with the ideas of books, text and number. Through the presentation of these and other, sometimes equally obscure terminology, the Sefer Yetzirah presents to us a cosmology and cosmogony that predates what will become identified as Kabbalah and that partakes of elements of an earlier Merkavah mysticism but also contains aspects of Gnosticism, neo-Pythagoreanism and Stoicism.
Since the earliest commentaries there have been numerous attempts at understanding the Sefer Yetzirah and those teachings derived from it. Within the present issue of the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition are two such attempts; one by ceremonial magician and author Aaron Leitch and the current article. Mr. Leitch’s article presents a Pythagorean-based interpretation steeped in the traditions of modern post-Christian Qabalah and focuses upon the ten sefirot, though not specifically the whole of the Sefer Yetzirah. The current article takes a different approach; attempting to recognize and explicate particular trends within the Sefer Yetzirah, most especially the structures formed by the combination of the “32 paths of wisdom” or the ten sefirot belimah and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alefbet.
Esair Sefirot Belimah – Ten Ideal Sefirot
The sefirot of the Sefer Yetzirah are left almost completely undescribed; they are neither named nor given the hypostatic-like attributes of later, Kabbalistic, texts such as Gikatilla’s Sha’are Orah. Instead they are simply described as being “belimah”. The word is a composite, and while Kaplan understands it to mean “ineffable” Scholem interprets it to mean closed or hidden within the text; i.e. the text must be understood in order for the sefirot to be understood. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive, though as will be demonstrated below, Kaplan’s ideology is somewhat more attractive, or at least immediately useful, than Scholem’s.
Chapters 1:3 and 1:5 begin to describe the structure of the sefirot, at least in relation to their own selves. 1:3 describes the sefirot as standing opposite one another: “Ten Sefirot of Nothingness; in the number of ten fingers, five opposite five.” Chapter 1:5 demonstrates this as meaning that each sefira has its own correspondingly opposite sefira:
Ten Sefirot of Nothingness:
As seen here, the series of opposites in 1:3 do not explicitly indicate a structure such as the Tree of Life found in later Kabbalistic texts. As the sefirot are here idealized and without actual substance this makes sense; physical structure cannot be imposed upon the non-physical. There is, however, a sort of structure indicative to what is described above, it is one that, why not physical in and of itself, will make room for the physical.
The five sets of opposites can be divided into three groupings: beginning-end, good-evil, and the six directions of up-down, east-west, and north-south. Kaplan and Blumenthal consider this a division between temporal, moral and special dimensions. Attributing these ten depths to the sefirot, later Kabbalists such as Rabbi Avraham ben David of Provence and Isaac the Blind in the 12th and 13th centuries and Rabbi Yitzak Luria, the Ari, in the 16th century, associated “beginning” with the sefira of Chokmah and “end” with the sefira of Binah. The Ari, following the Zohar, attributes the rest of the depths as follows:
Good – Keter
The first of this three-fold division is, interestingly, a temporal division and not a moral or spiritual division, which is the second dimension listed. What is important for this discussion, however, is that the first two sets of depths, temporal and moral, exist outside of the six depths of the directions. This suggests an affinity between these two sets of depth and it is tempting to associate them with the level of the soul known as the neshamah. The neshamah is considered temporal and guides the morality of the individual. Unlike in later Kabbalistic traditions that consider the neshamah to be an “inner light”, i.e. one that is knowable and within the individual, here the Sefer Yetzirah implies that it is instead an or makif or “enveloping light”, shining down and around the ruach and its connection to space.
The remaining six sefirot open up the possibility of space in its six directions. However at this stage there is no space, or even time, in the sense of modern physics as the sefirot are idealizations and not creations. Instead of representing the directions of space the Sefer Yetzirah describes these as “depths” of space, far removed from the idea of physical creation. In this light the Sefer Yetzirah may be describing a process similar to that of tzimtzum, “contraction”, that is described in the Sefer ha Bahir. This spaceless space, as it were, may then be associated with the ruach or intellectual soul. Whereas the neshamah guides the ruach, the ruach in turn guides the nefesh, the vital or animating soul.
At this point the “structure” of the sefirot is somewhat arbitrary. They exist in opposition, but those oppositions are ideological rather than structural or physical. Yet the idea of the temporal-moral dimensions existing as or makif surrounding the six depths of space suggests a type of proto-Tree of Life that may be useful as a meditations image representing the tzelem or “aura” of the individual. While such an image is thus far incomplete it might be represented as in the diagram below:
Diagram 1: The
Sefirot in the Tzelem – East Faces Away
Within the “space” of the six depths the spiritual elements are created: spirit, breath from spirit, water from breath and fire from water. These elements are “spiritual” in nature rather than physical and thus partially correspond to the elements of Aristotle and Ocellus Lucanus. The depths are six depths and their spiritual contents are then sealed with permutations of the letters , a Hebraicised form of the Gnostic . The sealing of things by God’s name is not an uncommon feature within Jewish religious and mystical literature, yet here it is important to note that God faces east as this is done. There are several different lists of permutations associated with the sefirot; the form used here is from the “short” version of the Sefer Yetzirah. This system uses the first letter of each sequence to determine the axis it is on:
Thus we find that the up-down axis is determined or typified by the letter yod, the east-west axis is typified by the letter hai and the south-north axis is typified by the letter vav. The last two letters designate direction upon the axis; yod is “super positive”, hai is “positive” and vav is “negative” in direction. As we will see, these directional attributions will be grafted onto the three Mother letters, which, like these three Father letters, are associated with the elements of air, water and fire.
Shelosh Imot - Three Mother
In chapter three the pattern of letters connected to the elements of air, water and fire is once again taken up and the three “Mother” letters, , , and , are described. The Mothers are described both in terms of a balanced system of thesis-antithesis-synthesis and individually. This not only mimics elements of Occellus, which are described both with individual qualities and qualities that exist in comparison to the other elements, but also situates the spiritual make-up of a human being in the midst of those elements. Yet the reference to the “Fathers” and their “descendants” in 3:2 suggests not a spiritual make-up but that of physical creation as well and from them the three dimensions of physical realty emanate: the universe, the year and the body.
The Mothers, and the Fathers that are born of them, thus are the foundation of the rest of creation, which will rest upon the dimensions of universe, year and body. As the Mothers and the letters of Havayah are thematically connected through their elemental attributions we may safely place these letters in the central axis of the space created by the six depths. As of yet, however, there is still no physical reality to bind these axes too, and thus they connect to the sefirot of the six depths. Later in this paper the direction of movement or energy flow of the letters will be examined. For now a new diagram, placing the Mother letters in the tzelem, is presented below:
Diagram 2: The
Sefirot and Mothers in the Tzelem
The fourth chapter of the Sefer Yetzirah introduces the second set of letters, referred to as the “Double” letters. These letters, , , , , , and , are associated with the planets of classical astrology and astronomy and are named such because at one point each of these letters contained both a hard and a soft sound. Unlike the associations between the elements and the Mothers, and later the zodiacal signs and the Simples, there has been much debate over how the planets should be assigned to the letters. The solution is not, however, difficult, and can be found both within Talmud and several Kabbalistic sources and is even suggested by the Sefer Yetzirah itself. Within these texts the planets are enumerated in the order of the Chaldeans, which reflects the order in which the planets were created. This, in turn, mimics the order of the planets according to their distance from the Earth, starting from the one that is farthest away; i.e. Saturn. According to this method, the letters and planets would come together as follows:
Placing the Doubles upon the lattice of the Mothers and sefirot, however, is a more difficult task. The Sefer Yetzirah helps with this endeavor, for God, dwelling in His home is spoken of in several places. In chapter 4:4 we are told the location of this house of God:
And the Holy Palace precisely in the center
This all leads us to place the letter bet in the center of the whole structure where the three axes come together. We do this because the heart, which rules over the soul and body is in the center of the body and the house of God is, of course, the Beit Mikdash, the Holy Temple. This leaves us only to place the remaining six letters.
There are a number of possible ways in which the other planets may be placed on the six-directional axis. Again, the Sefer Yetzirah itself suggests a way. Chapter 4:3 speaks of transposition. The word used here for “transpose” is temurah. Earlier, in chapter 2:2, the twenty-two otiot were permuted and transformed or transposed. The word here for “transpose” is hemir, which shares the same root as temurah. Kaplan tells us that, while in the first case the term is a reference to a meditational device whereby the letters are rotated in a type of cipher, in this case the term is in reference to the transposition of the hard and soft sounds of the doubles. Yet the text itself is not so clear that this is the only way to interpret this. This same chapter, 4:3, then transposes between the two powers of each letter; wisdom-folly, wealth-poverty, etc. This suggests multiple ways to read this statement and thus we cannot rule out the earlier use of hemir. If this is the case then we shall follow a rule of permutation based on the method suggested in chapters 1:3 and 1:5, which makes use of a system of opposites in combination with the alignment of the axes from chapter 1:13.
With the letter bet in the center of the system we now turn to order of the axes. The first axis is not the up-down axis but rather the south-north axis. This is because the letter alef, the first of the Mother letters, is aligned to this axis through its association with the letter vav of Havayah. To the south is then placed the letter gimel, as the south is the first part of the south-north axis given in chapter 1:13. Using the rule of chapters 1:3 and 1:5 we then place power opposite to that represented by gimel on the north side of the axis. As gimel is associated with Jupiter its opposite will be Mars and its associated planet is dalet. Next is the east-west axis associated with the letter mem. To the east is placed the next available letter, khaf, to which is associated the sphere of the Sun. Opposite to this is the letter tav and Luna. Finally is the up-down axis with its two letters peh and resh, Venus and Mercury. Here, then, we find opposites between grace and violence, day and night and emotions and intellect.
Diagram 3: The Sefirot,
Mothers and Doubles in the Tzelem
It is important to note that the axes of the Doubles does not reach the sphere of the six depths. Instead it is bound within the axis of the Mothers. What exactly creates the borders the Doubles are bound within will be discussed below.
Shtem Esray Pashutot -
It is chapter five that tells us about the Simple letters. Geometrically, chapter 5:2 describes a cube of “twelve diagonals”. This cube extends until “eternity of eternities,” or the sphere of directional depths that are, as sefirot belimah, eternal. The cube is also the “boundaries of the Universe.” This same chapter also describes the position of the letters in the cube. Unlike agreement on the associations between the letters and the zodiacal signs there are a number of different ways the letters are ascribed to the cube. This article uses the Gra version, which orders the letters in such a way as to take into account the directions in which the twelve tribes of Israel were ordered in the desert and to create the letter bet, which is both the first letter of the Hebrew bible and the letter through which creation occurred. It is thus fitting that creation, our home (beit), reflects the letter through which it was created. The diagram below demonstrates the placement of the Simples amongst the other letters and sefirot.
Diagram 4: The Sefirot,
Mothers, Doubles and Simples in the Tzelem
Here, then, are the thirty-two Paths of Wisdom spoken of in the Sefer Yetzirah and later explicitly associated with the Tree of Life in later Kabbalistic texts. Yet the third soul, the nefesh, appears to still be missing. As we will see, it is not missing at all; instead it is all around us.
The Missing Nefesh and the
There are a number of options as to how this may be possible, and it must be stated that much of this is speculative at best. According to later some later Kabbalists, such as Yehudah Lev Ashlag, who studied and commented upon the works of the Ari, each level of the soul, which are in turn connected to the five Kabbalistic worlds, contain within them all of the levels of the soul. Thus, it could be possible that the Sefer Yetzirah is describing the completeness of the lowest level of the soul while describing how, through meditation or magic, it can be accessed or created. On the one hand it is possible that by interpreting the techniques contained within the Sefer Yetzirah one is capable of completing and perfecting the nefesh. According to Ashlag this is necessary in order for the next level of the soul to descend upon the practitioner. It is also possible that this relates to the Merkavah mysticism the Sefer Yetzirah is descended from, corresponding to the idea of the descenders to the Merkavah; i.e. one must descend into the depths of the soul. On the other hand, information concerning the nature and structure of the soul may be necessary for the practitioner to create a soul, much as the Sefer Yetzirah says the patriarch Abraham used it to create souls. The Platonic idea of humanity as a microcosm of the macrocosm may also come into play here. Unfortunately, and assuming this conjecture is true, without more information on the tradition represented by the Sefer Yetzirah, it is likely we will never know the reasoning for how the soul is described in the text.
The energy flow along the axes of the Mother letters is perhaps the most difficult to discern, as the text is silent concerning this, whereas there are hints for the Doubles and almost explicit instructions for the Simples. It is their connection to the sefirotic depths of space, and the spiritual quality of the Mothers themselves, which provides the key. The first of the Mothers, the alef, is created from the ruach, the “Breath of God”. The ruach, as we have already determined, is represented by the sefirot of the six depths of space. Alef, in turn, creates the second Mother which creates the third and from there the Doubles and Singles are created. The energy of the Mothers, then, must come in from the depths of space and these three otiot then maintain the flow of energy from macrocosm to microcosm.
The energy of the Mothers flows into the center of the structure, but not out again, at least not as elemental energy. In the center is the first of the Doubles, bet, Saturn. This energy flows into bet and then out again into the rest of the Doubles. This possible because the energy of the Doubles is multi-directional and moves both in and out. This is the nature of the Doubles as “[t]hey direct themselves with two tongues”; each letter, being doubled in sound and meaning is also doubled in direction. This energy represents flux and reflux and, after flowing out from bet into the remaining doubles, simultaneously flows out into the Singles while turning in upon itself to create internal opposition.
Though receiving the impulse from the Doubles to maintain their cubic structure the energy of the Singles is, like that of the Mothers, mono-directional. However, as the Singles form the edges of a cube, a hollow cube that exists in infinite “space” and thus whose own borders and boundaries are infinite, their energy cannot move from inside to outside or outside to inside. Instead the energy of the Singles moves along the three sided boundaries described in chapter 5:2. As previously discussed these borders each form the letter bet and their energy moves from the upper boundary to the side boundary to the lower boundary. This construction is interesting because it suggests an “opening” to the four compass sides of the cube, as though it represented a room enclosed by four doors rather than four walls. The diagram below maps the flow of energy for the twenty-two otiot; for clarity, the four groupings of the Singles have been put in different colors.Diagram 5: The Energy Flow of the Otiot
Practice, or, What is
any of this Good For?
Two final suggestions on our own part, also in the traditions of modern ceremonial magic, would be to a) use the images and ideas provided here to develop an exercise that invokes and visualizes all of the powers discussed, building them up in the imagination and aura and b) use the schema of the text in the metaphysical layout of a magical temple. The information necessary for the first is available in the article and no more needs to be said. As for the second, the layout of the geometry of the Sefer Yetzirah can be applied to not only the tzelem but also to a physical space. The cubic shape, in fact, fits quite naturally into a similarly shaped room. It is not our intent to give an explicit explanation of how such a thing might be possible. Instead we will present a number of ideas that may be useful to the enterprising theurgist.
First, the groupings of the otiot have a directional flow associated with them, encoded within the text; the easiest of these to discern is the flow associated with the Simple letters. The movement of the energy of the letters may suggest where to place altars, diagrams and implements. Second, the placement of the letters in the temple, especially the Simple letters, may suggest angles which to hold implements in order to represent those energies or even signs and postures similar to those employed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or the more complex gestures belonging to the Ordo Aurum Solis. Third, and finally, it must be remembered that while the otiot appear to dominate the physical space of the temple, overlaying these are the six sefirot of the directional depths. These depths will overlay the whole of the temple and influence the whole of the temple space in various ways and in combination with the twenty-two letters.
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 While there have been numerous books written on this subject, focusing on the “Cube of Space”, many of these have approached the subject from the perspective of modern ceremonial magic. This article attempts to confine itself to an earlier understanding of the Sefer Yetzirah, and failing that, relying upon other traditional Jewish mystical texts. However, as will be seen, this traditional conjecture can be utilized for ceremonial magical purposes
 There are a number of other attributions possible, and the other Kabbalists mentioned above, as well as others such as Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, each used a different set of attributions, each with their own internal logic. For the sake of simplification, only one set of attributes, those listed above, will be used in this article. See Kaplan 1997, p.46, for these listings.
 Importantly, Malkhut is not considered to represent the depth of evil due to a Gnostic vilification of matter and creation but due to its purely receptive nature; i.e. Malkhut receives blessings from above but does not, on its own, give any blessings of its own.
 By doing so this article focuses primarily upon the relation between creation and humanity on a microcosmic level. However, as humanity is created in God’s image (Gen 1:27), the schema being described can readily be applied to different levels of creation and instead of souls we could speak of worlds, while keeping in mind that the paradigm of the Sefer Yetzirah may not fit neatly with later Kabbalistic traditions.
 Tzimtzum describes a process of creation whereby the transcendent deity “contracts” a “space” within Itself in order for there to be room for creation. For more on tzimtzum see Scholem1991, pp.82-7, Kaplan 1989, pp.xxi-xxv, and Appendix B to Klein 2005, pp.276-7, which is a fragment of writing on the subject by Rabbi Moseh Jonah, an early disciple of the Ari.
 Tzelem literally means “image” in Hebrew. Scholem has suggested the term has been used to describe an astral or etheric body (1991, pp251-273). Unfortunately Scholem’s language is hopelessly confused on this point, as he uses “astral” and “etheric” interchangeably.
 Havayah is a Kabbalistic way to write of the ultimate Name of God, more typically rendered in Christian and post-Christian Kabbalahs by the Greek term “Tetragrammaton” or “four lettered name.” The word Havayah is form from a permutation of the Name: .
 Several of these letters retain their double sound, such as the letter , which can be pronounced with either a v- or b- sound, depending on the presence of a dagesh mark. Saadia comments that the doubles are called this because they represent two kinds of knowledge; the knowledge of God and the knowledge of God’s creation. On their negative side, they also represent two kinds of punishment; punishment for the righteous and punishment for the sinner (Thompson and Marson, 1985).
 While the system employed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is today popular with many ceremonial magicians there is no correlation between this and any of the classical Jewish Kabbalists who have commented upon the Sefer Yetzirah, and W. W. Westcott’s claim that what is found in the text is a “blind” is dubious at best.
 The Sefer Yetzirah uses the word “nefesh” here. The word can both be used to refer to the soul as well as the body. In the parlance of theosophy this would relate to the “etheric body”, upon which the dense physical body is based. Alice A. Baily (1998, p.408), though her knowledge of Kabbalah was largely non-existent, also connects the body and the soul in a similar way, speaking of the physical body as consisting of both the dense physical body and the etheric body.
 This is also suggested by the tradition of PaRDeS, a method of Jewish exegesis that says there are four ways to read any text; using the simple meaning (Pshat), using hints within the text that lead to a deeper meaning beyond the literal (Remez), using interpretation through the comparison of similar words used elsewhere (Drash), and the secret or mystical meaning (Sod). In this case we are using the method of drash.
 This opposition is supported in several places. For instance in the Zohar, Sol and Luna are created at the same time but tension arises between them after Adam’s sin, which results in the decreasing of the moon’s light and its association with the “left-hand side” while the sun becomes a symbol of the covenant.
 The Hebrew letters of hai, vav, zayin, chet, tet, yud, lamed, nun, samekh, ayin, tzaddi and khof. Saadia says that “simple” refers to isolated and separate things, such as the twelve individual months of the year. As the seven letters are double, he says, the remaining twelve are referred to as being simple to differentiate between the two (Thompson and Marson, 1985).
 It is for this reason that the seven double letters are placed inside the cube and not, as found in many other versions of the “Cube of Space” on the walls formed by the cube of the zodiac. Cosmologically and astrologically speaking this make sense, as the planets exist within the ring of the zodiac and mitigate their energies and are not amongst the stars.
 As an interesting aside, the Zohar tells us that Abraham, and through him the people of Israel, are not bound to the stars and fate like the people of the seventy nations. Perhaps it is through the opening of these doors to higher realms that this unfettering is possible.