The Needs of the Many…

..outweigh the needs of the few. Star Trek fans will all know that…yes I am one, don’t judge me…especially because one can actually place the characters, and many of the scenarios, on the Tree of Life. Spock, McCoy, and Kirk, respectively are Gevurah, Hesed, and Tiferet. The Enterprise is Malkhut; Scotty is (perhaps) Yesod (“Ya canna change the laws of Physics” – Yesod is to an extent bound by physical laws, but with the help of Divine inspiration can push them to their limits.) The Federation of Planets might be seen as Keter, the ruling principle that seeks to know itself through Hokhmah, the mission to travel to “strange, new worlds, to seek out new life…etc”, limited (or contained) by the guiding rule, known as The Prime Directive, Binah.

Art, whether High Art or popular culture, serves a Divine purpose in presenting us with a reflection of the world, whether it be through a cathartic, or humorous representation of everyday life that we can immediately recognise (EastEnders? Friends?) or a more profound exploration, such as we find in the works of Shakespeare or Tolstoy. As a schoolteacher I recognise immediately the Harry Potter world of Hogwarts – the Weasley twins (my favourite characters) always end up in my class! Here are children looking to their teachers for safety, comfort and sometimes consolation – the nice teacher, the nasty teacher, even the interfering government inspector…if O.W.L.s aren’t O’ levels (Ordinary Wizarding Levels? Rowling giving her age away, today it’s GCSEs!) then I’m a house elf!

At the heart of spiritual tradition is scripture, so it is sad to find that the Bible has such low currency in modern life. Why is clear, we have moved away from religion because so much of the interpretation of scripture seems aimed at pinning us down to a particular, unbending way of living. However, the characters are no less human than, say Harry Potter, or even Mr Spock, who for all his logic is in many ways the most humane character of all, willing to die for the good of the many, and placing the greater good above personal, sentimental desire.

Of course, the logical characters, the ones who cannot, it seems, move beyond the sensible and explainable, are usually required to modify their ideas, while the emotive, feeling-driven characters are often not. So let’s have a look at logic and consider its Kabbalistic significance.

Logic is to do first and foremost with mathematical and scientific reasoning – the scientist will have us believe that everything can be explained scientifically, logically. What science cannot explain is either nonsense, or has yet to be understood intellectually. But science is rooted in the physical, the World of Assiyah (Action). It used to be referred to as Natural Science, to distinguish it from the Theological and Supernatural. It is concerned with the material world, not spirituality.

When we move up a world to Yetsirah, we are dealing with processes that have no immediate physical basis. For example, we can try to analyse love in terms of hormonal or electrical impulses, but we somehow know this does not really explain what love is. Psychologically it makes more sense, because then we are concerned with the watery world of feeling and emotion, hard to pin down but aware of direct experience. But psychology, analysis of the human mind, is also not concerned with spirituality.

As we move beyond Yetsirah and engage with the transpersonal, putting our feelings aside, we find a whole new dimension of logic. The World of Beriah can feel very cold and distant, because it is not concerned with your feelings or mine, but the collective patterns, cycles and functions of the universe. In the broad movements of the cosmos, the individual seems puny and insignificant – “as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods”, says Shakespeare in King Lear. But Gloucester in that speech has just experienced terrible cruelty, one might say seriously negative karma, so his view of the universe is inevitably gloomy and, arguably, rooted in Yetsirah. By contrast, when we experience pleasure, the world is our oyster (another line from Shakespeare!¹) and no less an illusion.

When we reach the transpersonal, however, we encounter a more profound form of logic, one in which the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few and self-sacrifice for the greater good is possible without counting the cost. This is the message conveyed by The Passion of the Christ; Jesus dies for the sins of humanity in the sense that he accepts his karma willingly and presents a model for all. Equally, Moses accepts his death willingly, looking toward the land to which he has led the Israelites but which he may not enter, his karma for striking the rock instead of speaking to it². Both these men have dedicated their lives to others, at the cost of personal gratification.

Their joy is in Divine consciousness, because they have learnt, or simply know, that which the rest of us seek to find – that the good of the many is inseparable from the needs of the one, or the few. When the whole tribe of Israel is delayed, waiting for Miriam who has been stricken with leprosy, it is for the good of all, not just to please Moses and Aaron³. The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many, because in Atsilut, the Divine World, there can be no separation of the one from the many.

We live in a world in which we are daily faced with choices, what will bring us the greater good? Brexit negotiations, international conflicts (consider America and Iran) and even day to day decisions often come down to a “them and us” choice. Only when we recognise that our own needs and the needs of others are one and the same will we truly reach a land flowing with milk and honey. The Eternal One is God and we are all in and of God. In Divine Conscious, we all have our place, and all truly is One.

 

WORKSHOPS 2018/19: the next workshop, “From Creation to The Passion: The Kabbalist’s Journey to Freedom”, will be held on 15th December, and will look more closely at how scripture can be applied practically to everyday life. Places are still available. See the relevant page for further information.

¹Shakespeare The Merry Wives of Windsor: Why then the world’s mine oyster, / Which I with sword will open.
²Numbers 20: 8-12
³Numbers, 12: 1-16
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Hello All, It’s Halloween…!

First of all, apologies for the title, I couldn’t resist. And for publishing this ahead of time, but there’s no time like now. Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain, call it what you like, has become a very lighthearted affair and, having just done my weekend shop, I feel it’s on top of me already. I shall no doubt be on duty with a bucket of sweets for the local children dressed up in scary costumes (them not me!); I probably won’t go and see the new Halloween movie.

I used to be a little po-faced about trick or treating – an American import that really has little basis in British tradition, but if it makes a few people happier, who am I to complain in these troubled days. We surely need something to cheer us up as the winter draws in.

But in saying “Hello All” I’m not being entirely whimsical, because this is a very inclusive tradition. It has its roots in paganism, was adopted by Christianity, and, in the form of trick or treating, is open to anyone who wants to participate.

It also involves both the living and the dead! It is for Christians a night to pray for the recently deceased, when the saints and martyrs are honoured. According to some, the veil between worlds is at its thinnest, hence the idea of ghosts wandering. Less charming, it is a night when the dead might reek revenge on their enemies still living –  hence the masks worn by the living to disguise their identities.

In pre-Christian times, Samhain heralded in the winter. The flocks were brought in from their summer pastures and, it was believed, the nature spirits (Aos sí) could more easily enter into our world, so offerings of food and drink were left outside for them for good luck. Dead relatives were invited to feast and a place was laid for them at table.

As a Kabbalist, I am very conscious of the different Worlds we inhabit. The physical world is constantly in a state of flux and, as human beings, we shift between states of being all the time. Most obviously in dreams, when you are no longer subject to the limitations of physical laws, time itself loses meaning and one can experience whole lifetimes in a fraction of a second. Actually, most of us spend most of our time in our heads, projecting our own feelings onto others. If I’m in a good mood then everyone is smiling at me, if I’m in a grumpy mood, naturally everyone’s got it in for me!

An old Talmudic saying is that we rarely see the world as it is but as we are. This is because of the power of Yesod, whose home is in the psychological World of Yetsirah. The veil between Worlds is indeed very thin, and not only on Halloween! Equally, our discarnate companions, spirit guides, guardian angels, call them what you like, are constantly available to us, if only we choose to shift levels and engage with them. (Even as I type, I can hear mine laughing, or perhaps groaning: “so why do we see so little of you?” I know, I know!!!)

As an exercise, observe people in the street, or driving their cars, lost in their own worlds. The veil between worlds is thin and we spend surprisingly little time consciously awake down here.

So my exercise this Halloween will be to watch the veil between worlds – not ghost-hunting or anything extreme like that, just being aware that as a human being I have access to more. Perhaps in doing so, I might take a step beyond both the physical and psychological Worlds, into the World of Spirit, the transpersonal realm where all Creation meets in its most perfect manifestation, and where the Malkhut of Atsilut – The Hem of the Robe of God – lies within reach of all, if only we choose, consciously and with intention, to reach out and touch it.

Then, as my first teacher used to say, there is no turning back, and we might fully encounter the Divine Presence, here and now.

The Eternal One is God, And All is One.

 

Autumn Harvest; Divine Prosperity.

This week is the Autumn equinox, the time of year when Earth’s northern hemisphere prepares to move into the inward looking months of Winter, longer, darker nights, and a period of slowing down. Historically Autumn was that period of plenty, when the fruits of Spring and Summer filled our store cupboards, and we began to hunker down ready for colder, shorter days. Perhaps for that reason, it was the time chosen for the Jewish (and Islamic) New Year. A season of plenty when we might reflect on how we have used our time; whether the outer stores of meat, grain and other food for winter are reflected by inner stores.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is born during the darkest point of winter. Having conceived in the early part of Spring, Mary’s pregnancy progresses through the cycle of seasons, concluding, not with darkness, but a symbol of great light. Right now She is visibly heavy with child, Her aura no doubt radiating in the way that pregnant woman do; in Mary’s case perhaps more so, given whom She was carrying!

This is also a good time for clearing away the baggage of the past and looking ahead to a brighter future. I especially value the Jewish tradition known as Tashlikh, which literally means “cast off”. This is a ritual performed next to flowing water, where one symbolically casts off one’s sins into the water to be carried away. I like to broaden the meaning to include not only sins but any psychological baggage that is holding me back.

In the Gospels, Jesus heals a man saying, “Take up your bed and walk … and sin no more”¹. This is often interpreted in a limited way – the word “sin” obviously has a negative association – but we know that to facilitate change in our lives we need to change the way we live. “Sin no more” can mean do not continue in those kinds of behaviour, both physical and emotional, that have held you back. So my prayer in casting off the baggage of the past year is something like,” Help me, YHVH Elohim, to move forward in my ways, to end the patterns of behaviour holding me back and lead me toward paths that nourish and bring me closer to You.”

Following soon after Yom Kippur, the festival of Succot (literally ‘booths’, we’d probably say ‘Yurts’ these days!) celebrates the harvest, while reminding us of the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert. They lived a nomadic existence, in temporary homes that could be assembled and disassembled quickly. This is a wonderful analogy for the spiritual life. No one in ‘The Work’ can afford to rest in one place too long – I don’t mean that literally, but rather psychologically and spiritually. I have seen too many people, even among those who regularly attend schools of the soul, stuck in the belief that outward practice, or even intellectual understanding, is enough. The message of Succot is to recognise that the journey requires us to look within and step out of our comfort zones, awake to whatever challenges confront us along the way.

The reward for such endeavour is symbolised by the festival of Simchat Torah (“rejoicing in the Torah/Law”) that follows immediately after Succot. It represents the point at which the Israelites received the Aseret Ha’Dibrot (Ten Commandments, literally “Ten Statements”) and became the Am Yisroel (“People of Israel”²). Accepting Divine Law opens the way to spiritual growth. Just as the harvests of Autumn provide nourishment for the body, the harvest of Divine Law provides a basis for spiritual growth; it nourishes the soul. Conventional religion recognises this through reading and studying scripture, both of which are central to Jewish and Christian practice. But it is equally important for any Spiritual Pilgrim.

This does not mean you have to sit down and read the Bible every day, though you might find it to be a powerful form of meditation. It means awakening to how Divine Law functions in our everyday life. This is both a challenge and a blessing. Without it we merely go through the motions of daily routine; with it we embrace the subtlety and wisdom contained within the very cycles of life. Appreciating this symbolism is a pathway to the understanding of Self, a light shining in the wilderness.

Shana tova u’metukah. G’mar Chatima Tovah. (May you have a good and sweet year. May you be inscribed for good in the Book of Life.)

 

¹In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus simply says “Pick up your bed and walk”. However, according to John, Jesus meets the man later and tells him to leave his sinful ways, lest he suffer worse.

²Bear in mind that Israel (Yisroel) means “One who struggles with God” – in other words, one who commits deep within her/himself to a life dedicated to spiritual awakening. That the Israelites become the Am Yisroel at this point is a personal reading, so not everyone will agree with me. I would suggest that when one truly accepts the Torah, i.e. one opts to live one’s life according to Divine Law, one ceases to be a child and joins the ‘Am Yisroel’ (People of Israel) rather than the ‘Bnei Yisroel’ (children of Israel).

Workshops 2018/19

I will be running workshops in Aylesbury from October:

The Modern-day Kabbalist: Practical Spirituality for Everyday Life

Details can be found on the relevant page of this site. Those of you who have attended my workshops before will be familiar with the format, although I am changing the content from previous years, with the emphasis being on the practical application of Kabbalistic principles for the Modern Age.

The courses will be accessible to beginners but also challenging for those who have experience of the tradition.

If you have any questions, or wish to sign up, please use the contact page above.

I hope to see as many of you as possible.

Grounding the Divine…

Earlier this year I began the process of turning my garden into an allotment. I dug up patches of earth and gradually transformed them into patches of vegetables – runner beans, cauliflowers, lettuce, courgettes. The hot weather has been a challenge and the lack of rain a serious obstacle but I am already enjoying the fruits of my labour, harvesting courgettes and courgette flowers, salad leaves and, now tender young beans that taste sweeter than anything you can buy commercially.

My intention was not simply to grow my own veg. I tend to be a thinker, more than capable of becoming a dreamer, so this was one way of connecting with my physical self, grounding myself in Malkhut. In addition to the obvious rewards, it has helped me to meditate on what it means to be incarnate, to live in a physical body and engage with Assiyah, the World of Action or ‘Doing’, and to ponder Malkhut, the last of the Sefirot, and the one concerned with bringing ideas into manifest reality.

Only when thoughts become actions can they be of use. Poets, artists, musicians need to be sufficiently grounded to express ideas in practice, otherwise they are lost. The process begins in Keter, is inspired and understood at Hokhmah and Binah, crosses Da’at to expand and be given shape by Hesed and Gevurah, personalised at Tiferet, and ultimately given form in the lower Sefirot of Nezah, Hod and Yesod. Only when it is given physical dimensions in Malkhut, is it fully realised and accessible. Moreover, once something has entered physical being, it is hard to retract. Consider the word spoken that you wish had not been, the email or text message that you sent without thinking of the consequences.

Equally important is how we perceive Malkhut, bearing mind that we see through the mediation of Yesod. Look at the media and consider how much of what is presented is concerned primarily with perceptions – physical beauty, celebrity, even wealth, are concepts that exist purely in Yesod. In contrast, Malkhut is entirely objective. What we regard as wealth is merely an accumulation of ‘stuff’ – in fact, in this digital age it does not even need to take a physical form.

The body has its own set of rules and often our actions and choices are driven purely by the body’s desire to maintain, protect or reproduce itself. Hence sexual desire, pain, hunger and thirst, the body’s ways of letting us know it too has needs.

The animal kingdom is likewise entirely objective: the cat hunting a mouse is acting entirely according to natural instincts, contained within the lower face of Yetsirah and manifest as actions in Assiyah. The way it plays with the mouse may seem cruel but this is no more than Yesodic projection. Likewise our assumption that our pet dog’s apparent love and loyalty somehow makes it human. It is not, and indeed most of the behaviour we display has more to do with our animal, than our human, nature. Most human behaviour is entirely natural, even when it is morally reprehensible. It is a shocking thought to consider rape and murder as natural, but it is basically no more than people giving way to their baser instincts. Nature is neither good nor bad. It is our choices we must judge.

This idea will not sit comfortably with those of a Romantic disposition. Indeed much of what we find in modern, pseudo-paganism is just a post-Victorian fantasy of nature as some kind of benevolent goddess. The true Pagan knows that this is a misrepresentation based on a childish desire to return to the protective embrace of the mother.

It is vitally important that we recognise this, for our own well-being as well as our spiritual development, because the aim of all spiritual Work is to transcend (but not deny) nature. The Kabbalist speaks of bringing Keter into Malkhut, in other words to rise above our baser instincts and draw the Divine into this place of physical being.

This is the basis of Yoga, in which, by attending to the Body, we attend to the Soul. It is also at the heart of the Christian tradition, though few Christians are aware of it. When I treat my body as a temple in a truly spiritual sense, the Eucharist does indeed become the body of Christ, because through devotion the Christos becomes physically present. The spoken or written word uttered with devotion is the Logos/Word. In the Bible, the dimensions of the Tree of Life form the basis of the Temple in Jerusalem, Noah’s Ark, and ultimately the human body itself.

The Baghavad Gita teaches us to observe Divine Law in the way we perform our Earthly duties. In this way, even digging the garden can be an act of devotion, if performed consciously and with higher intention. The rewards are far greater even than a crop of runner beans and courgette flowers, though they are a wonderful bonus.

 

There is always ‘now’…

I had the pleasure this week of hearing an Indian Swami speak on the Hindu Vedanta tradition. He made the point that we are driven by what he called ‘urges’: the desire for material security, the pursuit of pleasure, and, ultimately, a place in Heaven. These urges are innate, we do not create them for ourselves, because the usual consequence of having such urges is that we cannot always fulfil them. We seek to be happy, but for much of the time are unhappy. We seek security and yet feel insecure, hence the rich person’s constant struggle to increase his/her wealth. We crave immortality, yet know our bodies are mortal; the cosmetics industry is built on this, no one has yet discovered a fount of youth.

It is these urges that drive people toward, and away, from conventional religion. If Jesus died for my sins, perhaps my place in Heaven is secure, so long as I conform to a pre-agreed set of moral and theological imperatives. If I pray three times or five times a day, facing Jerusalem or Mecca, maybe God will favour me and I will be granted eternal life. Perhaps if I join a spiritual school and meditate regularly, I can find peace and happiness by sitting and focusing on my breath. Or the atheist’s view, there is no afterlife, but I still need to be a caring person because it will ensure the greatest happiness. These are all fine points of view, as far as they go, but where do you go from there?

What matters is where we are now and our intention, facing up to our urges so that we are not ruled by them. Avoiding, as far as we can, the habits arising from those urges that have become so established we may not even know they are there. Living consciously and not re-actively.

One of the things that I am learning in my weekly yoga class is to keep my body simultaneously still and pro-active, a seeming contradiction. I have a wonderfully understanding teacher, who adapts patiently every time she says lift your leg in the air and my knees remain stubbornly rooted to the mat. I am encouraged to be conscious of everything my body is doing and experiencing with each new posture, even if it is not quite what everyone else is doing. So if my foot – or leg, or other limb – is not actually ‘doing’ anything, I remain attentive to it, keep it active, don’t let it slacken.

Applying the principle through a physical discipline is helping me to address the really important questions surrounding my spiritual progress. Am I remaining actively attentive to my actions and thoughts? What are my intentions? Where is my focus? Right now it’s on writing a blog that will help me address a spiritual concept, while providing the reader with some food for thought.

If I can achieve for one moment in my yoga practice, or in any practice, routine or otherwise, an insight into my Higher Self, or just experience a momentary encounter with the Inner Worlds, catch a glimpse of eternity, I would know my intention has been fulfilled.

But even if I don’t, by focusing on being attentive, awake to opportunities for spiritual growth, I still know my time has been well spent. Spiritual Work does not have to be about achieving insightful moments, points of destination. The journey itself matters just as much, because to be always concerned with achieving a measurable result – this or that experience – can be to miss the bigger picture. God, Nirvana, Heaven – these are in the little things, and are easily overlooked when we are busily looking for salvation, a place in Heaven, or whatever reward we believe we are due.

The answer is always in the question – if I am subject to thirst (something, says the Swami, that I did not create for myself) then there is water; if I am hungry, there is food. And if I seek redemption? I am already redeemed!

In the Baghavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna, In whatever way I am approached, in that way do I respond. All come, by whatever path, to me.¹ So, when I focus my attention on the greatest urge of all, Self-fulfilment and communion with God, I must come to it.

The trick is knowing it is already here. Living ‘now’ is about being in Tiferet (Soul Self) rather than Yesod (ego self) – and recognising that I can direct those urges; maybe not all the time – I am human, after all – but at least for some of the time. My daily bread is in the challenges that arise along the way, prompting me to live as consciously as this day allows and my soul can muster.

Remembering it is always ‘now’.

 

¹The Baghavad Gita, according to Paramahansa Yogananda, Edited by Swami Kriyananda [Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2008]

 

 

 

 

Facing the Realities of Life, Faith and Doubt …

Faith does not mean being right, it means adhering to something higher than yourself. Real faith allows for doubt, and anyone seriously in The Work is going to have those moments when all seems futile, or just plain wrong, even though all past experience tells you otherwise. Faith is not fainthearted. Nor is it science. Empirical evidence is of little help when things are going badly. Only that still, small Voice that holds true and speaks to us in those dark moments.

Life is a process, not an end in itself. We are born with potential and limitations, the product of previous incarnations. It is interesting to consider what life might have been like the first time we were born, without good or bad karma, but also without experience of what it feels like to inhabit a physical body.

Presumably we were wholly reliant on our animal instincts, in our animal bodies, with an animal soul (Nefesh) and an ego at Yesod. These mortal parts of ourselves were needed to guide us through everyday survival, while our human soul (Neshamah) was getting used to the separation from the Upper Worlds. Right and wrong would be mere abstractions in a seemingly hostile world, where the need to survive physically is all-encompassing.

Newly-born, in each life we experience a similar situation, as our ego-Yesod forms anew. The difference is that we bring with us the karma of previous lives, from recent incarnations, and perhaps unfinished business from lifetimes longer ago.

It is said that by the age of two we have lost most of the memory of our discarnate state, and by the age of seven the ego for this life is established. Hence the old Jesuitical saying, give me a child to the age of seven and I will give you the man. This separation can be traumatic, especially if the karma we bring with us means resolving difficult issues from past lives.

Knowing we can at any time reconnect to our Higher Selves might seem, therefore, an impossible dream. Consider the victim of war, rape, assault, persecution; the experience, of humiliation or abandonment; even the silly, minor frustrations of everyday life.

How do we make this re-connection and engage with our Spiritual side when all we see are things going wrong?

Anyone reading this will probably have been through trials in their lives, times when all seems hopeless and when conventional faith has been lost. This feeling is almost certainly not just a product of one lifetime. We have felt it before. We have been both victim and persecutor. We also know, inwardly at least, that our Soul has survived both, else we would not be here now.

Talking of faith in times of crisis might seem futile. The usual platitudes simply don’t carry weight. Nor should they. The promise of a reward in Heaven simply isn’t good enough. But understanding that there is such a thing as Divine Law might help to put troubles into context. Faith is not about believing everything will be alright in the end as long as we act according to prescribed rules. Rather it is about taking responsibility and listening to what, intuitively, we know and feel is True. Listening to that Inner Voice.

This is Faith of a different order. It is not apologetic, conciliatory, or passive; it is not simply acceptance, or resignation, to fate, or God, or karmic inevitability. It is ownership of our own Path. Salvation does not come from messiahs or gurus. And, though it does ultimately come from The Eternal One, most importantly it comes from within ourselves.

It’s worth considering this next time the car breaks down, or the fridge leaks, or the economy takes a downturn and your job is at risk, or our politicians make yet more questionable choices. Consider the possibility that the victim of assault or abuse, however terrible, has paid his/her karmic debt, and that the perpetrator will eventually have to do the same. Honour the disabled person, whose Soul has had the courage in this life to experience such hardship. Honour yourself in dealing with whatever crisis, big or small, comes your way.

And allow for doubt, the right to question: why me, why now, why this?

We all bring our karma with us to this life. We know deep within us that what we have brought in, this life’s experience, belongs to us and us aloneFacing this reality requires the deepest Faith. In our ability to fulfil this life’s purpose, whatever it may be.

Ultimately Truth and Cosmic Order need to be seen, understood – and known. These are the qualities of Hokhmah, Binah and Da’at. These make us Human and both faith and doubt exist to support us in finding our role in the greater process of unfolding creation. It is not a science, but it is a reality.

 

Plague, Principles and the Wrath of God!

Tradition teaches that we do not celebrate the Passover but commemorate it. We do not rejoice in the suffering of the Egyptians, either during the plagues, or later when they drown in the Red Sea. They represent a part of ourselves; that which experiences the trials of spiritual and psychological growth. It is our suffering we observe here.

We have seen already that those trials are real. While we may not experience a plague of frogs or hailstones, their equivalent will manifest in those aspects of our psyche most resistant to change. The final three plagues relate to the supernal triad on the Tree of Life – Binah, Hokhmah and Keter.

Locust and Darkness descend from the sky and the death of the firstborn strikes directly at Life itself. In these plagues we are shaken to the very core of our being. They are transpersonal, touching on the World of Beriah and, for the final plague, the Divine World of Atzilut.

Locust – Do not Take the Eternal’s Name in Vain – Binah.

Locust devour everything green, the basis of life; crops, grass for cattle, everything. Understanding the commandment, we see why a plague from the sky is called upon to devour all that is left of Egypt’s wealth.

Not using God’s name falsely or casually, or to make an oath, is a warning not to use our learning, spiritual or otherwise, inappropriately. Trying to control others, teaching false principles or assuming you (and ONLY you!) have THE answer to eternal questions are all abuses of learning and position. That also means not projecting our own responsibility onto others. These days especially, those who hold authority do so because we allow them to, whether by choice or default.

This includes the priest, rabbi and imam (and guru!) who use their status to manipulate others, keeping their congregation in a state of childish dependence and subservience. Any spiritual tradition, whether esoteric or conventional, is here to serve humanity, not enslave it.

Freedom means taking responsibility for one’s own actions and directing our understanding to something higher. The third commandment is an injunction to use well the potential that comes with knowledge, insight and experience. The intensity of the plague reflects the seriousness of the responsibility in whatever context we find ourselves.

Darkness – Do not carve for yourself a graven image – Hokhmah, which translates as wisdom, refers to Grace and Inspiration. It is the eureka moment when  we receive a flash of insight, or are inspired to write, or speak – or remain silent! It is manna from heaven that must be received and released, because tomorrow it will be rotten, or just out-of-date.

Carving a graven image, idolatry, is about turning that inspired moment into a fixed “Truth” for all time. Again we see this in religion – decisions about what we should believe, often made centuries ago, that we stubbornly cling to even when it is obvious they no longer have relevance now.

Darkness is such a wonderful metaphor. It represents spiritual darkness, the inability to see what is before you, and (worse!) the inability to receive from Above anything new. It cuts us off from our Selves, at the personal and collective level, Soul and Spirit; and even hides The Eternal One from view.

Death of the Firstborn –  If we consider the firstborn as representing our deepest, most carefully guarded patterns and habits, we can realise that this most horrifying of plagues is about the ultimate letting go.

“You shall have no other gods before me” – Only God may give and take life. Usually it is a profound, sometimes life-shattering event that leads one to seek a spiritual path, to leave the slavery of ordinary existence behind. For me it was going through cancer and chemotherapy over a period of seven years in my late teens and early twenties. Eventually it broke me down emotionally, but I was made ready to see the world differently and seek my spiritual path. I would not change that experience for anything; it has been too valuable in making me who I am now. Only Pharaoh survives this plague, because the ego must experience the loss if it is to allow and accept the transformation of Self.

If you meet the Buddha along the way, kill him! The Kabbalist sees this as a letting go of the deep-rooted habits we cling to. Not slavishly following received wisdom or “Truth”! Even in spiritual groups, I have seen more than a few become stuck in their rituals and practices, as if they were an end in themselves. Slavery is a choice we make for ourselves.

Only now is Pharaoh ready to release the Israelite slaves, who must take their first steps toward freedom and independence. For the spiritual pilgrim what follows is a journey through the wilderness, metaphorically and (perhaps) literally. We now have the opportunity to enter The Work, to individuate and find, eventually, our Land Flowing with Milk and Honey.

Bearing in mind that real Freedom, like anything worth having, must be earned!

 

Ten Principles, Ten Plagues, One Soul…

Now it’s getting really personal! The next three plagues relate to the Soul Triad and these afflict us at the deepest level of our emotional life. Disease, Pestilence, Hailstones break through our deepest resistance – no longer just old habits but deeply rooted psychological patterns that keep us from experiencing the freedom to be our Truest Self.

Pestilence of cattle – Tiferet – you shall not murder; the Hebrew ‘Dever’ literally means ‘plague’ and has the same root as the word ‘commandment’ or ‘statement’.

The death of cattle is less significant to most of us now than it was then. However, those who remember the impact of foot and mouth, or mad cow disease, will recall the terrible distress to the farming community, and the broader social and economic consequences.

‘Dever’ is seemingly air-born and reminds us we are now touching Beriah, the World of Spirit. It relates to the prohibition against murder, literally unlawful killing. Murder hits at the very Soul, both the Nefesh (animal-soul) and Neshamah (human soul).

We are still primarily at the physical and psychological levels. By taking the form of a physical death at the animal level, we are reminded that the body is a temporary habitation – and that death, at the level of the soul, is the wages of sin. The karma accrued might well carry through many lifetimes and recovery from an act of murder can be slower and more painful for the murderer than the victim.

Halevi describes this pestilence as a direct attack on the body to release its hold on the psyche¹. This makes sense because the commandment refers not only to physical murder but dis-empowerment of any kind. The tyrannical parent or teacher undermining a child. The boss belittling an employee. The abuse of anyone (whatever their age) that causes them to feel worthless and small. All are forms of murder, because they inhibit the victim’s potential to realise his/her fullest and deepest Self.

Boils – a truly karmic plague! Modern psychology has shown that, if you try to suppress an emotion, it will simply express itself another way; it must out. This plague is a consequence of excessive Gevurah that leads to anger and resentment, symbolised by boils breaking out over the body. Not just the physical body but also the psychological. We know that emotional ‘dis-ease’ often finds expression in physical disorders – boils represent emotional symptoms as well as physical ones.

The plague is inflicted on that part of ourselves that believes it is all-powerful and has the right to keep us in a state of emotional slavery. It relates to the commandment to “Honour your father and your mother”, not to remain in servitude to them, or any form of authority. Unless we access our inner Father and Mother, we remain as children, with all that resentment and anger. Without even realising it, the rebel or revolutionary, perhaps even the tyrant, is often driven by a deep psychological resentment of parental authority, which can feel like another kind of slavery. But one can also be a slave to the resentment!

Hail – on the opposite side of the Tree of Life, relates (paradoxically) to the expansive principle of Hesed (Mercy/Compassion). “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy” is about humbly seeking to expand ourselves spiritually. However, its shadow is the Deadly Sin of Greed, or excessive expansion/consumption. This plague takes the form of an uncontrollable force, raining down destruction, rocks of ice and fire that burst the bubble of our self-importance and self-inflation.

Honouring Father and Mother also refers to Earth Mother and Sky Father, concepts much more common in pre-Christian traditions, such as the Ancient Greek or Native American. Remembering the Sabbath creates a balance. The Eternal One stopped work to contemplate Creation, at one level Sky Father acknowledging the beauty of Earth Mother and that which was created through them. Modern society exploits the Earth for the sake of greed and consumerism like never before. The benefits of scientific knowledge are too often exploited by the unscrupulous for personal gain and, as in the case of our Biblical Pharaoh, the pursuit of power and status.

I don’t want to get into ecological or political rhetoric here, but we see around us the negative effects of excessive consumerism: rising levels of obesity, perhaps the rise in ADHD and mental disorders; polluted seas and dwindling fish stocks; and the inevitable decline in fuel reserves that power our expanding desire for material things.

Boils and Hailstones can be seen as symbolising these physical and mental disorders, perhaps even as the planet hitting back in the form of climate change and melting polar ice caps. We create Pestilence by murdering the planet, murdering each other and, ultimately, murdering ourselves.

Whatever your views on the ecological debate, these plagues warn us that behaving unconsciously, or without conscience, at a personal or collective level, has far-reaching consequences.

But Pharaoh’s Karma, for such it is, is only just warming up…

Next time…the plagues on the supernal triad, and the Wrath of God…!

 

 

¹Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi Kabbalah and Exodus

 

Passover, Plagues and Principles…

Passover ended on Saturday and the Israelites now journey into the desert, towards Mount Sinai where they will be given the Ten Commandments. It will not be easy; much will happen before they receive those Tablets of Stone. So, for the next few weeks we are in a state of transition – no longer slaves but not yet fully committed to Spiritual Work.

Marking the Exodus, it is said, we should think of ourselves as if we were personally leaving Egypt, so I will dwell a little longer and consider the significance to us today of the Ten Plagues, relating them to the Ten Commandments.

Actually I prefer to call them the Ten Statements – the Hebrew is Aseret Ha’dibrot, from the root ‘Le’dab’er’, to ‘speak’ or ‘combine words’; hence statements of Divine Law. The root word also means ‘plague’, so the same word means ‘plague’ and ‘commandment’. When placed on the Tree, the parallels between the two can be quite startling.

So, a brief guide, in order – my thoughts on the Plagues and the Principles.  (Bear in mind that you are going up the Tree for the plagues, down for the Commandments, so the first plague relates to the tenth commandment, and so on.)

Blood represents the vital force, our life’s blood, the body, and in values that are too often dominated by materialism. It relates to the tenth commandment, not to covet another’s possessions, and the bible lists the things central to wealth and status at that time. Equally it can include your neighbour’s car, house, HiFi system, clothes and girl/boyfriend, not just his ox and ass and wife.

Pharaoh (ego¹) covets his slaves and the wealth and status they bring him, not regarding his spiritual poverty. In the news this week was a story about how trafficking in human slaves in the UK is on the rise: the perpetrators of such crime are ignorant of the plague awaiting them.

Frogs – I know I shouldn’t say so but I love this one! Imagine millions of these amphibians EVERYWHERE!!!

More seriously, consider the image of the puffed up toad as a symbol of an over-inflated ego – this plague is a warning against falsehood and self-aggrandisement!  The first plague belongs to the physical world (Assiyah) but this one illustrates the connection between the physical and the psychological worlds.

Pharaoh is full of his own importance, and this plague is to show him (and us) the falseness of such an assumption of power. Before God, we are servants, not masters. And equally, not slaves. Pharaoh is a slave to his delusions of power – tell that to the politicians and priests!

Lice/Parasites – from here it starts getting itchy! This plague relates to the commandment prohibiting theft – and kidnapping, so another reference to slavery. In fact any situation in which you try to take what is not yours.

Lice are blood-sucking parasites, metaphorically stealing life-blood without offering something in return, due payment. Consider the old aphorism: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Con artists rely on greed or fear of loss to cheat people. Doing something on the cheap can lead to disaster and it’s no accident that a con is also known as a ‘sting’.

But consider also the marketplace and what makes it possible for some to offer cheap items for sale: if you pay less, someone somewhere in the world receives less, often leaving them trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and low wages. The ego does not like having to pay its way, but this plague teaches us that ultimately the price will be our own life-blood.

Flies/Wild Animals – begins a new phase in the process. Interpretation of the Hebrew (‘Arov’) varies but it literally means ‘a mixture’.

According to one tradition, The Holy One sent every kind of wild beast available, snake’s scorpions, and so on. These represent our animal drives, hence the connection with Nezah and the commandment prohibiting adultery, which is a misuse of our animal drives. Wild creatures usually prefer to avoid humans, so this is an example of an unrestrained libido bringing together things that do not belong, a broader and more helpful definition of adultery.

More prosaically, I will end this first blog on the ten plagues with an anecdote that gently illustrates the point. My house in Hertford had a 100 foot garden, which I arranged in the form of a Kabbalistic Tree, with each of the sefirot represented by a different design. At Nezah I placed dramatic plants that glorified the Venusian principle in bold colours, including some magnificent, tall, red dahlias: I was showing off!

And the Universe taught me a lesson! Overnight, slugs (wild beasts, for sure!) devoured my beautiful flowers – leaving nothing behind. Now, I am not suggesting that there is anything ungodly about planting dahlias! Only that I was able to witness a visual illustration of karma, a valuable lesson that has always stayed with me and helped me to balance my physical drives with mindfulness. The Universe is a clever teacher!

Next time…the plagues associated with the Soul triad…

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¹It has been pointed out to me that Pharaoh can also symbolise the shadow side of Tiferet. His weakness is his pride, which is indeed an aspect of Tiferet. Here, however, I am considering Pharaoh as an uncontrolled Yesod, the ego that rules (or tries to) rather than serve. For a more positive view of Yesod/ego we have the character of Joseph, who serves the Greater Pharaoh (Tiferet), who rules wisely. In Exodus we find the Lesser Pharaoh, who rules only at the lower face of the Tree and therefore can be taken symbolically to represent ego. Certainly he was an animal man (Tiferet-Hod-Nezah) and, like so much in scripture, can be interpreted in very different ways, according to the particular question we bring to our reading.

One of the most valuable qualities of Kabbalah is that there is no dogma, no single set of rules we must accept, and therefore it is possible to reach very different conclusions that are equally valid. What is important is whether those conclusions work for you, as it were, ring true, and this can change according to the needs of the moment. I leave it to the reader to reach her/his own conclusions. What makes sense to you, now?