28 juin 2006

Julius Evola, On the Secret of Degeneration, (full text)

Anyone who has come to reject the rationalist myth of "progress" and the interpretation of history as an unbroken positive development of mankind will find himself gradually drawn towards the world-view that was common to all the great traditional cultures, and which had at its centre the memory of a process of degeneration, slow obscuration, or collapse of a higher preceding world. As we penetrate deeper into this new (and old) interpretation, we encounter various problems, foremost among which is the question of the secret of degeneration.

In its literal sense, this question is by no means a novel one. While contemplating the magnificent remains of cultures whose very name has not even come down to us, but which seem to have conveyed, even in their physical material, a greatness and power that is more than earthly, scarcely anyone has failed to ask themselves questions about the death of cultures, and sensed the inadequacy of the reasons that are usually given to explain it.

We can thank the Comte de Gobineau for the best and best-known summary of this problem, and also for a masterly criticism of the main hypotheses about it. His solution on the basis of racial thought and racial purity also has a lot of truth in it, but it needs to be expanded by a few observations concerning a higher order of things. For there have been many cases in which a culture has collapsed even when its race has remained pure, as is especially clear in certain groups that have suffered slow, inexorable extinction despite remaining as racially isolated as if they were islands. An example quite close at hand is the case of the Swedes and the Dutch. These people are in the same racial condition today as they were two centuries ago, but there is little to be found now of the heroic disposition and the racial awareness that they once possessed. Other great cultures seem merely to have remained standing in the condition of mummies: they have long been inwardly dead, so that it takes only the slightest push to knock them down. This was the case, for example, with ancient Peru, that giant solar empire which was annihilated by a few adventurers drawn from the worst rabble of Europe.

If we look at the secret of degeneration from the exclusively traditional point of view, it becomes even harder to solve it completely. It is then a matter of the division of all cultures into two main types. On the one hand there are the traditional cultures, whose principle is identical and unchangeable, despite all the differences evident on the surface. The axis of these cultures and the summit of their hierarchical order consists of metaphysical, supra-individual powers and actions, which serve to inform and justify everything that is merely human, temporal, subject to becoming and to "history." On the other hand there is "modern culture," which is actually the anti-tradition and which exhausts itself in a construction of purely human and earthly conditions and in the total development of these, in pursuit of a life entirely detached from the "higher world."

From the standpoint of the latter, the whole of history is degeneration, because it shows the universal decline of earlier cultures of the traditional type, and the decisive and violent rise of a new universal civilization of the "modern" type.

A double question arises from this.

First, how was it ever possible for this to come to pass? There is a logical error underlying the whole doctrine of evolution: it is impossible that the higher can emerge from the lower, and the greater from the less. But doesn't a similar difficulty face us in the solution of the doctrine of involution? How is it ever possible for the higher to fall? If we could make do with simple analogies, it would be easy to deal with this question. A healthy man can become sick; a virtuous one can turn to vice. There is a natural law that everyone takes from granted: that every living being starts with birth, growth, and strength, then come old age, weakening, and disintegration. And so forth. But this is just making statements, not explaining, even if we allow that such analogies actually relate to the question posed here.

Secondly, it is not only a matter of explaining the possibility of the degeneration of a particular cultural world, but also the possibility that the degeneration of one cultural cycle may pass to other peoples and take them down with it. For example, we have not only to explain how the ancient Western reality collapsed, but also have to show the reason why it was possible for "modern" culture to conquer practically the whole world, and why it possessed the power to divert so many peoples from any other type of culture, and to hold sway even where states of a traditional kind seemed to be alive (one need only recall the Aryan East).

In this respect, it is not enough to say that we are dealing with a purely material and economic conquest. That view seems very superficial, for two reasons. In the first place, a land that is conquered on the material level also experiences, in the long run, influences of a higher kind corresponding to the cultural type of its conqueror. We can state, in fact, that European conquest almost everywhere sows the seeds of "Europeanization," i.e., the "modern" rationalist, tradition-hostile, individualistic way of thinking. Secondly, the traditional conception of culture and the state is hierarchical, not dualistic. Its bearers could never subscribe, without severe reservations, to the principles of "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" and "My kingdom is not of this world." For us, "Tradition" is the victorious and creative presence in the world of that which is "not of this world," i.e., of the Spirit, understood as a power that is mightier than any merely human or material one.

This is a basic idea of the authentically traditional view of life, which does not permit us to speak with contempt of merely material conquests. On the contrary, the material conquest is the sign, if not of a spiritual victory, at least of a spiritual weakness or a kind of spiritual "retreat" in the cultures that are conquered and lose their independence. Everywhere that the Spirit, regarded as the stronger power, was truly present, it never lacked for means - visible or otherwise - to enable all the opponent's technical and material superiority to be resisted. But this has not happened. It must be concluded, then, that degeneracy was lurking behind the traditional facade of every people that the "modern" world has been able to conquer. The West must then have been the culture in which a crisis that was already universal assumed its acutest form. There the degeneration amounted, so to speak, to a knockout blow, and as it took effect, it brought down with more or less ease other peoples in whom the involution had certainly not "progressed" as far, but whose tradition had already lost its original power, so that these peoples were no longer able to protect themselves from an outside assault.

With these considerations, the second aspect of our problem is traced back to the first one. It is mainly a question of explicating the meaning and the possibility of degeneracy, without reference to other circumstances.

For this we must be clear about one thing: it is an error to assume that the hierarchy of the traditional world is based on a tyranny of the upper classes. That is merely a "modern" conception, completely alien to the traditional way of thinking. The traditional doctrine in fact conceived of spiritual action as an "action without acting"; it spoke of the "unmoved mover"; everywhere it used the symbolism of the "pole," the unalterable axis around which every ordered movement takes place (and elsewhere we have shown that this is the meaning of the swastika, the "arctic cross"); it always stressed the "Olympian," spirituality, and genuine authority, as well as its way of acting directly on its subordinates, not through violence but through "presence"; finally, it used the simile of the magnet, wherein lies the key to our question, as we shall now see.

Only today could anyone imagine that the authentic bearers of the Spirit, or of Tradition, pursue people so as to seize them and put them in their places - in short, that they "manage" people, or have any personal interest in setting up and maintaining those hierarchical relationships by virtue of which they can appear visibly as the rulers. This would be ridiculous and senseless. It is much more the recognition on the part of the lower ones that is the true basis of any traditional ranking. It is not the higher that needs the lower, but the other way round. The essence of hierarchy is that there is something living as a reality in certain people, which in the rest is only present in the condition of an ideal, a premonition, an unfocused effort. Thus the latter are fatefully attracted to the former, and their lower condition is one of subordination less to something foreign, than to their own true "self." Herein lies the secret, in the traditional world, of all readiness for sacrifice, all heroism, all loyalty; and, on the other side, of a prestige, an authority, and a calm power which the most heavily-armed tyrant can never count upon.

With these considerations, we have come very close to solving not only the problem of degeneration, but also the possibility of a particular fall. Are we perhaps not tired of hearing that the success of every revolution indicates the weakness and degeneracy of the previous rulers? An understanding of this kind is very one-sided. This would indeed be the case if wild dogs were tied up, and suddenly broke loose: that would be proof that the hands holding their leashes had become impotent or weak. But things are arranged very differently in the framework of spiritual ranking, whose real basis we have explained above. This hierarchy degenerates and is able to be overthrown in one case only: when the individual degenerates, when he uses his fundamental freedom to deny the Spirit, to cut his life loose from any higher reference-point, and to exist "only for himself." Then the contacts are fatefully broken, the metaphysical tension, to which the traditional organism owes its unity, gives way, every force wavers in its path and finally breaks free. The peaks, of course, remain pure and inviolable in their heights, but the rest, which depended on them, now becomes an avalanche, a mass that has lost its equilibrium and falls, at first imperceptibly but with ever accelerating movement down to the depths and lowest levels of the valley. This is the secret of every degeneration and revolution. The European had first slain the hierarchy in himself by extirpating his own inner possibilities, to which corresponded the basis of the order that he would then destroy externally.

If Christian mythology attributes the Fall of Man and the Rebellion of the Angels to the freedom of the will, then it comes to much the same significance. It concerns the frightening potential that dwells in man of using freedom to destroy spiritually and to banish everything that could ensure him a supra-natural value. This is a metaphysical decision: the stream that traverses history in the most varied forms of the traditional-hating, revolutionary, individualistic, and humanistic spirit, or in short, the "modern" spirit. This decision is the only positive and decisive cause in the secret of degeneration, the destruction of Tradition.

If we understand this, we can perhaps also grasp the sense of those legends that speak of mysterious rulers who "always" exist and have never died (shades of the Emperor sleeping beneath the Kyffhäuser mountain!). Such rulers can be rediscovered only when one achieves spiritual completeness and awakens a quality in oneself like that of a metal that suddenly feels "the magnet", finds the magnet and irresistibly orients itself and moves towards it. For now, we must restrict ourselves to this hint. A comprehensive explanation of legends of that sort, which come to us from the most ancient Aryan source, would take us too far. At another opportunity we will perhaps return to the secret of reconstruction, to the "magic" that is capable of restoring the fallen mass to the unalterable, lonely, and invisible peaks that are still there in the heights.

From Deutsches Volkstum, Nr. 11, 1938.

Read more!

27 juin 2006

Eric Geoffroy, Le Pluralisme Religieux en Islam, (note de lectura)

L’Islam se présente comme l’ultime expression de la Volonté divine révélée aux hommes, confirmation et achèvement des messages précédents. L’Islam reconnaît et reprend les messages des prophètes antérieurs à Muhammad.

Muhammad avance la chiffre de 124.000 de prophètes (même s’il ne mentionne que vingt-sept), tout en précisant que « pour toute communauté il y a un envoyé ». Les savants musulmans reconnaissent Bouddha, Zoroastre, Akhenaton. Certains savants musulmans considèrent que le mystérieux prophète Du-l-Kifl (cel din Kifl) qui apparaît dans le verset 21-85 serait Bouddha, né à Kapilavastu.

Certains ont vu dans les « avatars » l’équivalent des prophètes abrahamiques. Les oulémas hindous considèrent les Védas comme des livres sacrés, et comptent les hindous parmi « les Gens du Livre » coraniques.

Le Coran évoque maintes fois la « Religion primordiale » (al-dîn al-qayyim). Toutes les religions sont issues de cette religion sans nom.

Il existe donc une théologie du pluralisme religieux en Islam, ne serait-ce que par un verset exotérique: « À chacun de vous, Nous avons donné une voie et une règle. » (Coran 5 : 48).

Dans un hadith, le Prophète Muhammad confirme l’universalisme de la Révélation: « Nous autres, prophètes, sommes tous les fils d'une même famille; notre religion est unique » (Bukhârî).

Ibn Hazm (XIe s.) : « Place ta confiance en l'homme pieux, même s'il ne partage pas ta religion, et défie-toi de l'impie, même s'il appartient à ta religion ».
Les soufis ont donné toute sa dimension au thème coranique de la « Religion primordiale » - « la doctrine de l'Unicité divine ne peut être qu'une » (al-tawhîd wâhid).

La littérature soufie cite souvent les propos de Jésus Christ, surtout Al-Ghazzâlî. Le respect pour les moines chrétiens a poussé certains chaikhs de les présenter comme des modèles à atteindre.

Al-Hallâj a dit: « J'ai réfléchi sur les dénominations confessionnelles, faisant effort pour les comprendre, et je les considère comme un Principe unique à ramifications nombreuses. »

Ibn ‘Arabî a fourni un cadre doctrinal au thème de « l’unité transcendante des religions » (wahdat al-adyân). La diversité des religions est due à la multiplicité des manifestations divines.

Hadith qudsî: « Je suis conforme à l’opinion que Mon serviteur se fait de Moi. » Chaque religion dévoile un aspect de la divinité.

Junayd a dit que les croyances sont comparables à des récipients de différentes couleurs : dans tous les cas, l'eau est à l'origine incolore, mais elle prend la couleur de chaque récipient.

Ibn ‘Arabî a dit: « Prends garde à ne pas te lier à un credo particulier en reniant tout le reste [...] Que ton âme soit la substance de toutes les croyances, car Allâh le Très Haut est trop vaste et trop immense pour être enfermé dans un credo à l'exclusion des autres. » (Fusûs al-hikam)

« Mon coeur est devenu capable de toutes les formes
Une prairie pour les gazelles, un couvent pour les moines
Un temple pour les idoles, une Ka‘ba pour le pèlerin,
Les Tables de la Thora, le Livre du Coran.
Je professe la religion de l'Amour, et quelque direction
Que prenne sa monture, l'Amour est ma religion et ma foi.
» (Ibn ‘Arabî)

Le cheikh tijânî Tierno Bokar, surnommé par Théodore Monod « le saint François d'Assise de Bandiagara » conclut que « croire que sa race, ou sa religion, est seule détentrice de la vérité est une erreur [...] La foi est d'une nature comparable à celle de l'air. Comme l'air, elle est indispensable à la vie humaine et l'on ne saurait trouver un seul homme qui ne croie véritablement et sincèrement en rien ».

Le chaikh Ahmad al-‘Alawî, en pleine période coloniale, disait: « Si je trouvais un groupe qui soit mon interprète auprès du monde de l'Europe, on serait étonné de voir que rien ne divise l'Occident de l'Islam ».

La proximité qui existe entre les saints musulmans et les prophètes et certaines figures antérieures à l'islam historique doit être placée dans la perspective de l'« héritage prophétique » dont sont investis les saints musulmans. Il paraît que le type christique est très répandu parmi les soufites.

De nombreux mystiques persans (Ibn Abî l-Khayr, ‘Ayn al-Qudât, Rûmî, Shabestarî...) considéraient que la croyance du simple fidèle ou encore du théologien exotériste n'est qu' « idolâtrie cachée ». L'homme non réalisé spirituellement ne peut qu'être idolâtre, voire "infidèle", car il n'adore pas Dieu en vérité; il n'adore que ce qu'il conçoit être Dieu.

La frontière entre l'ouverture interreligieuse et le syncrétisme est parfois ténue.
Ibn Hûd (m. 1300), disciple d'Ibn Sab‘în à Damas, était appelé le « cheikh des juifs » en raison de l'ascendant qu'il exerçait sur certains représentants de cette communauté. Il « accueillait le soleil à son lever en faisant le signe de la croix », et proposait à ceux qui désirent se placer sous son obédience de choisir entre trois voies initiatiques : celles de Moïse, de Jésus et de Muhammad. Il a été perçu comme syncrétiste par les exotéristes mais aussi par la majorité des soufis.

« Le soufisme turco-persan se caractérise par une plus grande tolérance que le soufisme d'expression arabe. Si certains auteurs persans prônent un supraconfessionnalisme de nature métaphysique, les derviches anatoliens pratiquent volontiers une mystique transconfessionnelle. Le bektachisme est ainsi un véritable creuset d'influences diverses où se côtoient chamanisme, christianisme, chiisme hétérodoxe. À la fin de l'époque médiévale, les Bektachis étaient si proches des moines grecs que l'on a parfois du mal à distinguer les uns des autres. En Anatolie, l'affranchissement des barrières confessionnelles était chose partagée, et on disait communément qu' « un saint est pour tout le monde ». Des groupes soufis ont parfois été taxés d'hétérodoxie en raison de leur souplesse dogmatique, mais il n'empêche que celle-ci a été un facteur incontestable d'islamisation. Ibn Hûd a ainsi fait entrer des juifs de Damas en islam, et les Bektachis ont largement contribué à convertir les populations des Balkans. »

Le principe de l’unité transcendante des religions n’est pas mis en application pour la grande majorité des soufiyya (à cause du danger de mélanger les formes religieuses).

‘Abd al-Razzâq Qâshânî (XIVe s.), auteur d'un commentaire ésotérique du Coran, concède que juifs et chrétiens obtiendront le même degré spirituel et la même rétribution que les musulmans exotéristes, ce qui constitue déjà une ouverture considérable dans le contexte de l'époque. Mais selon lui la connaissance de l'Unité, de l'Essence divine est réservée à l'élite des musulmans, c'est-à-dire aux soufis. Les limitations inhérentes au judaïsme et au christianisme, explique Qâshânî, sont résolues par l'islam qui opère la synthèse entre leur tendance respective : l'extérieur (zâhir) pour le judaïsme, et l'intérieur (bâtin) pour le christianisme.

Les soufis indiens postérieurs à Dârâ Shakûh (XVIIe s.) admettent la vérité des doctrines védiques et emploient à l'occasion des termes et des symboles hindous. La plupart, cependant, se montrent sceptiques quant aux possibilités de réalisation spirituelle au sein de l'hindouisme à leur époque.

Read more!

25 juin 2006

Julius Evola, Servicio al Estado y burocracia, (texto entero)

Una señal característica de la decadencia de la idea de Estado en el mundo moderno está representada por la pérdida del significado de aquello que, en una acepción superior, significa el servicio al Estado. Allí donde el Estado se nos presenta como la encarnación de una idea y de un poder, en el mismo tienen una función esencial aquellas clases políticas definidas por un ideal de lealismo, clases que, en la acción de servir al Estado, sienten un elevadísimo honor y que, sobre tal base, ellas participan de la autoridad, de la dignidad y del prestigio inherentes a
la idea central, de modo tal de diferenciarse de la masa de los simples ciudadanos "privados". En los Estados tradicionales tales clases fueron sobre todo la nobleza, el ejército, la diplomacia y, finalmente, aquello que hoy se denomina como la burocracia. Es sobre esta última que nosotros queremos dirigir una breve consideración.

Tal como ha sido definida en el mundo democrático moderno del último siglo, la burocracia no es más que una caricatura, una imagen materializada, opacada y desfasada de aquello a lo cual debería corresponder su idea. Aun prescindiendo del presente inmediato, en el cual la figura del "estatal" se ha convertido en la imagen escuálida de un ser en lucha permanente con el problema económico, de modo tal de ser ya el objeto preferido de una especie de ludibrio y de amarga ironía, aun prescindiendo de esto, el sistema presenta caracteres inverosímiles. En los actuales Estados democráticos se trata de burocracias privadas de cualquier autoridad y de cualquier prestigio, privadas de una tradición en el mejor sentido de la palabra, con personal en exceso, mediocre, mal retribuido, caracterizado por prácticas lentas, desganadas, pedantes y farragosas. El horror hacia la responsabilidad directa y el servilismo hacia el "superior" son aquí otros rasgos característicos; en lo alto, otro rasgo que se encuentra es un vacío oficinismo. En general, el funcionario estatal medio de hoy en día se diferencia muy poco del tipo genérico moderno del "vendedor de trabajo"; efectivamente, en los últimos tiempos los "estatales" han asumido justamente la figura de una "categoría de trabajadores" que va detrás de las otras en cuanto a las reivindicaciones sociales y salariales en base a agitaciones e incluso huelgas, cosas éstas absolutamente inconcebibles en un Estado verdadero y tradicional, tan inconcebibles como el caso de un ejército que se pusiese a hacer huelga en una determinada circunstancia para imponer al Estado, comprendido como un "dador de trabajo" sui generis, sus exigencias. En la práctica, hoy se llega a ser empleados del Estado cuando se carece de iniciativas y no se tiene ninguna perspectiva mejor en la vida, teniendo en vista un sueldo modesto, pero seguro y continuo: por lo tanto algo propio de un espíritu más que pequeño burgués y utilitario. Y si en la baja burocracia la distinción entre quien
sirve al Estado y un trabajador o empleado privado cualquiera es a tal respecto casi inexistente, en las altas esferas el burócrata se confunde con el tipo del politiquero y del "puntero". Tenemos así "honorables" y "personas influyentes" investidas del poder de gobierno, pero las más de las veces sin el correlato de una verdadera y específica competencia, las cuales en las componendas ministeriales toman o se intercambian las carteras de uno u otro ministerio, apurándose en llamar a su alrededor a amigos o a compañeros de partido, teniendo menos en vista el
hecho de servir al Estado o al Jefe del Estado, cuanto el de recabar provecho de la propia situación.

Éste es el lamentable espectáculo que hoy nos presenta todo lo que es burocracia. Pueden influir aquí razones técnicas, el desmedido acrecentamiento de las estructuras y superestructuras administrativas y de los "poderes públicos": pero el punto fundamental es una caída de nivel, la pérdida de una tradición, la extinción de una sensibilidad, todos éstos fenómenos paralelos al del ocaso del principio de una verdadera autoridad y soberanía.

Nos viene a la mente el caso de un funcionario, que pertenecía a una familia de la nobleza, el cual presentó sus dimisiones cuando cayó la monarquía en su país. Se le preguntó entonces: "¿Cómo es que Ud., poseedor de riquezas incalculables, podía ser un funcionario a sueldo, sin tener ninguna necesidad de ello?". El estupor de quien se sintió hacer semejante pregunta no fue menor del de aquel que se la había hecho: puesto que él no podía concebir un honor mayor que el de servir al Estado y a su soberano. Y, desde la perspectiva práctica, no se trataba aquí de una "utilidad", sino de la adquisición de un prestigio, de un "rango", de un honor. Pero hoy en día, ¿quién no se asombraría si el hijo de un gran capitalista ambicionara convertirse en un..."estatal"?

En los Estados tradicionales el espíritu antiburocrático, militar, del servicio al Estado tuvo su símbolo en el uniforme el cual, así como los soldados, endosaban también los funcionarios (nótese como en el fascismo existió un deseo de retomar tal idea). Y en contraposición con el estilo del alto funcionario de hoy en día que hace servir su puesto a sus utilidades individuales, existía en ellos el desinterés de una impersonalidad activa. En la lengua francesa la expresión: "On ne le fait pas pour le Roi de Prussie" quiere decir aproximadamente: se lo hace aun cuando no nos viene una moneda en el bolsillo. Es una referencia a aquello que, por el contrario, fue el estilo de puro y desinteresado lealismo que constituyó el estilo de la Prusia de Federico II. Pero también en el primer self-government inglés las funciones más altas eran honoríficas y confiadas a quien gozara de una independencia económica, justamente para garantizar la pureza e impersonalidad de la función y simultáneamente el correspondiente prestigio. Tal como se ha mencionado, la burocracia en sentido negativo se ha formado paralelamente con la democracia, mientras que los Estados de Europa central, por haber sido los últimos en conservar rasgos tradicionales, conservan también mucho del estilo del puro y antiburocrático "servicio al Estado".

Cambiar las cosas, en especial en Italia, es hoy una empresa desesperada. Existen gravísimas dificultades técnicas, así como financieras. Pero la mayor dificultad se encuentra en aquello que deriva de la caída de nivel, del espíritu burgués, del espíritu materialista y ventajista, de la carencia de una idea de verdadera autoridad y soberanía.

(De Il Secolo d'Italia, 21 de Marzo de 1953)

Read more!

Rama P. Coomaraswamy, Philosophia Perennis And The Sensus Catholicus, (full text)

The wise man will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be occupied in the prophets...”
(Ecclesiastes 39: 1-5)

It is generally assumed that there is no room within Christianity for accepting the concept of Sanatana Dharma, or what in the west has been called philosophia perennis or priscorium. This Sophia perennis, to use a phrase preferred by Wolfgang Smith holds that certain metaphysical truths, and hence access to a knowledge of the divine, have always been available throughout history and are to be found within the framework of every valid religious tradition.

First of all it should be clear that such a concept in no way contradicts the principle Extra eclesia nulla salus - that outside the Church there is no salvation. If one understands this principle in the way the Church has always understood it, one accepts the fact that there are individuals who, as Saint Pius X put it, belong to the soul of the Church. Such individuals are “invincibly ignorant” of the manifest Church, and certainly before the coming of Christ, the ark of salvation had to take other forms.

It is also necessary to consider history, not as a progressive advance from primitive times to the present “enlightened” era but more realistically as a continuous degeneration from a former golden age. Adam’s fall from paradise is a paradigm for understanding the present situation. God did not abandon His creation and Adam found regeneration, and is indeed considered by the Church to be a saint. In ancient days, saving revelation, in accordance with man’s more “direct” apprehension of truth, was appropriately more “simple. With each succeeding “fall,” God provided more stringent requirements for man to follow if he sought to reverse the process of degeneration, until the time of Moses when the rules required encompassed every aspect of life. This is well reflected in the Sacrifice of Abel, followed by that of Abraham, and finally by that established through the medium of Moses. Yet throughout all this we have the Sacrifice of Melchisedech, renewed once again in Christ.

Such an attitude is not a carte blanche for every religion that comes down the pike. If salvation is possible outside of the formal structure of the Church, as must have been the case at least before the coming of Christ, one must remember that one cannot be saved by error. It is Truth alone that saves. And so it follows that salvation comes to us by the Divine Logos which Logos exists and existed from the beginning of time, for “in the beginning was the Word.” [1]

The early Church fathers were faced with the plethora of old religious forms which were degenerate in the extreme. They followed one of two courses. They either declared that Christianity had the fullness of the Truth and that therefore there was no need to look elsewhere, or they held that all truth, no matter where it was found, belonged to the integrity of the Faith, and was therefore to be accepted, absorbed, and embraced. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, quoting St. Ambrose, “all truth, no matter where it is found, has the Holy Spirit for its author.” In a similar manner, St. Jerome all but adopted the Buddha’s life story and Christianized it as we have in the hagiographical account of.St Josephat.

Catholic Saints have recognized this reality throughout the centuries. St. Justus referred to Heraclitus as “a Christian before Christ,” and Eckhart spoke of an ancient sage in the following terms: “One of our most ancient philosophers who found the truth long, long before God’s birth ere ever there was a Christian faith at all as it is now.” St. Thomas of Villenova taught the same doctrine: “Our religion is from the beginning of the world. A great Christian was Abraham; a great Christian was Moses; so also David and all the patriarchs. They adored the same God, believed the same mysteries and expected the same resurrection and judgment. They had the same precepts, manners, affections, desires, thoughts, and modes of life; so that if you saw Abraham, and Moses, and David with Peter and Andrew and Augustine and Jerome, you would observe, in all essential things, a perfect identity.” [2] One could multiply such quotations but such serves no purpose as long as the principles are understood.

Against this we seemingly have Augustine’s retraction which he wrote at the end of his life in an attempt to correct any misunderstanding that his works might lead to. This Retraction runs as follows: “The very thing that is now called the Christian religion was not wanting among the ancients from the beginning of the human race, until Christ came in the flesh, after which the true religion, which had already existed, began to be called ‘Christian.’ [3]

A closer examination of this retraction however requires an understanding of its reference. The earlier statement occurs in a passage of De Vera Religione (X.19) wherein Augustine explains that “the soul, crushed by the sins which envelope it, would be unable to rise towards the divine realities unless there was found within the human sphere something which would allow man to rise from the earthly life, and to renew in himself the image of God. For this reason God, in his infinite mercy, has established a temporal means by which men may be recalled to their original perfection, and by which God comes to the help of each particular individual and of the human race.” St. Augustine then adds: “That is in our times the Christian religion, to know and to follow which is the most secure and certain salvation.”

In passing it should be noted that Augustine speaks of the “human race,” and not just of the Jewish religion with which of course Christianity has a very close connections. Again, St Justin stated: “God is the Word of whom the whole human race are partakers, and those who lived according to Reason are Christians even though accounted atheists.” He included in these, not only Heraclitus, but also Socrates and Abraham.

It was this last sentence that Augustine wished to clarify, explaining that in his retraction he had made use of the term “Christian religion” but had failed to express the reality which lies behind the name. To quote him again, “It is said according to this name, not in accord with the thing itself, of which is the name.” . To make this even clearer Augustine adds: “When, in fact, following the resurrection and ascension into heaven, the Apostles began to preach and many persons came to believe, it was among the people of Antioch - so it is written - that the disciples were first called Christians. This is the reason why I said, ‘That is in our times the Christian religion’; not because in earlier times it did not exist, but because in later times this name was accepted.”

And so it is that it is possible for a Catholic to hold to the position usually described as “perennial or universal philosophy.” The only requirement is that he hold to it as a Catholic who accepts all the teachings of the Church as encompassed in the traditional Magisterium, and this for the simple reason that if one steps outside the Magisterium and entertains one’s own personal opinion as being “true,” one contradicts all that the sanatana dharma holds sacred. [4]

All this has little to do with the false ecumenism that seems to pervade the atmosphere in our days, an ecumenism that would accept not only Protestantism, but every new age deviation imaginable on - as Vatican II puts it - “on an equal footing.” This ecumenical outreach often extends itself to Eastern religions where those responsible have little true knowledge and understanding. For example, many will speak of the Trinity in Hinduism as being represented by the exclamation of sat chit ananda - which is perhaps best translated as being, knowledge and bliss - names of God equivalent in Islam to qudrah, hikmah and rahmah.. The Hindu Trinity of Powers consists of the solar Father above, a fiery Son on earth (whence he ascends to heaven), and the Gale of their common spiration. St. Frances of Sales warned against those who speak of other religions without adequate knowledge, and indeed, even for those familiar with their own theological terminology (which is rare among current scholars), would have difficulty in understanding ways of expression foreign to their intellectual world. [5]

And so it is that we as faithful Christians can, and indeed must accept the idea of a sophia perennis. Wisdom has always been there, it is Christ, the Word made flesh who opens the door and the Church which gives us access to it.


An important consequence follows from the above principles. If there is indeed truths to be found in other religions, these truths may serve to clarify some of the obscurities we encounter within our own. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, they can become “extrinsic and probable proofs” of the truths of Christianity. With this in mind, I offer in what follows a study by Ananda Coomaraswamy on a passage in Isaiah: “there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding...”

The Tree Of Jesse And Oriental Parallels [6]

The chapter on this subject in Arthur Watson’s admirable and long awaited monograph on the Early Iconography of the Tree of Jesse (Oxford, 1934) is of particular interest. Let me say in the first place that although the formula appears rather suddenly in Christian art in the eleventh century, I have no wish to demonstrate or even to argue for an Indian or otherwise specifically Oriental origin at that time, my view being rather that we have a single example of the many close parallels between mediaeval Christian and Oriental thought and symbolism which are best understood by an ultimate derivation of both from a common source (of which our earliest knowledge is, perhaps, Sumerian); diversities of formulation representing as it were the dialects of one spiritual tradition common to humanity [7]. From this point of views there is no difficulty in assimilating Isaiah XI, 1-3 to the Vedic texts cited in my “Tree of Jesse and Indian Parallels or Sources” (Art Bulletin, Vol. XI) [8] without suggesting any derivation of one text from the other. In just the same way Exodus XIV corresponds to Rg. Veda III, 33 and VII, 18 (in both cases the chosen people cross the Waters in chariots, the waters lending themselves to easy passage, while the enemy attempting to follow is destroyed by the returning torrent); and Genesis, 1, 2 especially as understood by some mediaeval writers, e.g. Ulrich Emngelberti “the Spirit of God moves over the Waters warming (fovens) and forming all things, [9] with Aitareya Aranyaka, II, 4, 3 “He glowed upon the Waters and from the Waters that were set aglow a form was born,” and ib. II, 2, 1, “He who glows is the Spiritus.” Parallels of this sort could be indefinitely multiplied and cannot be accidental.
Certain of the problems can be very profitably envisaged from this point of view. We hold for example that the Vedic Tree proceeding from the navel of Varuna (deity preeminently of the waters), the Mahabharata conception of the Birth of Brahma (and corresponding iconography, the lotus rising from the navel of Narayana, who rests in and upon the Waters), and the Bazaklik representation (in which the lotus-Tree rises directly from the Waters) [10] are all true parallels of the Tree of Jesse, which presents an analogous range of variations and if none of the latter (unless possibly Watson’s Pl. II, which in any case exhibits “the tree as having a deeper root than Jesse himself”) shows the Waters, the same applies to the Burmese representation (Watson’s Pl.. XXXIX) and some others where there is no express indication of the underlying Waters. Needless to say that the Waters stand for potentiality as distinguished from act, and it makes little difference whether the roots of the Tree are represented as outspread in the Waters themselves, or in a Ground, whether anthropomorphic or otherwise, that rests upon or in the Waters; in either case, both Ground and Waters are to be understood. The variety in formulation in this respect appears already in the Rg.Veda; in I, 182, 7 “the Tree stands in the midst of the Flood” (this corresponds to the Haoma-tree that is in the midst of Vourukasha, where the kar-fish swims, in Zoroastrian tradition, Bundahis XVIII, Yusna XLII, 4, etc.); in I, 24, 7 “its Ground is above,” its oriflames or branches tending downwards, upari budhna here, and urdhva mula in Katha Up., VI, 1 corresponding to Boccacio’s “Genealogical Tree of the Gods” in celum versa, radice cited by Watson, p. 45, and to the Zohar passage at the beginning of the section Beha Alotheka, “Now the Tree of Life extends from above downwards, and it is the Sun which illuminates all.” Again in the Gupta representation at Deogarth the stem of the lotus that supports Brahma is not directly connected with the navel of Narayana. But rises behind him, and this often happens in the representations of the Tree of Jesse. Still, the connection of the root with the navel is, even correct formulation, and this will be evident, if we reflect that the “stem” after all represents the fruition of the “seed” of Jesse, as is especially evident when the Tree becomes a veritable genealogy, and that the navel according to all ancient traditions both Western and Eastern is the progenitive center and a center in every sense of the word, and as such the starting point of manifestation.

The common significance of the Occidental and Oriental trees becomes most evident when we recall that the rose and the lotus are equivalent symbols, and observe that the Christian virga, often hermeneutically assimilated to “virgo,” is identified with the Virgin as being the ground of the divine manifestation, just as in Oriental art the lotus is the earth or ground of any such manifestation. When in Western art there are doves on the branches (as in the Dijon MS. Illustration cited by Kingsley Porter, Art Bulletin, VII, p. 10, Note 2, cf. the mosaic cross in the fault of the apse of S. Clemente in Rome, where the doves are set in the shaft and arms of the cross which rises from a flower provided with proliferating branches like those of the Jesse Tree) this corresponds exactly to Rg. Veda, I, 164, 21 “There the Fairwings (angels) chant their share of aeviternity,” Brhadaranyaka Up., IV, 3,2 where “The Swan, the Golden Person, by the Spirit wards His lower nest,” and Dante, Paradiso, XVIII, 110, “power that is form unto the nests.”

Enough has been said, I think, to prove that the fundamental ideologies underlying the Eastern and Western representations are the same; and where borrowing is improbable, and independent origin unlikely because of the complexity of the symbol itself, the theory of an ultimately common source can hardly be avoided. Mr. Watson remarks that “The difficulty in establishing a relationship between Oriental trees and the Tree of Jesse is that, although we may find striking parallels, it is difficult or impossible to demonstrate connecting links” (p. 65). The same difficulty presents itself if we try to connect Isaiah XI, i-3 with the late mediaeval iconography by documentary links. As to this, we can only say with Andrae (? Berlin 1933, p. 66) that in fact “a formal symbol can remain alive not only for millennia, but... it can spring into life again after an interruption of thousands of years”; and add that, while a symbol as such can survive mechanically in traditional arts for an indefinite period, the transmission of symbols together with that of their metaphysical significance belongs for the most part to oral and initiatory teachings which by their very nature leave no documentary traces; and it is just because of this that symbols and their interpretation so often seem to emerge or reemerge simultaneously at some given moment or in some given place as if from nowhere. In the present case it is not impossible that the transmission of a doctrine of the Tree of Jesse had taken place in Kabbalistic circles; the Zohar (e.g. Vo. V, pp. 203,221; in the Simon and Sperling version) is often most informative as to the Tree of Life or Tres of Life and Death, and that the former is above the latter may be compared with the Bazaklik representation, in which the lotus grounds of the mundane and heavenly levels of being are distinguished by position in the same sense.

The present note is not a review of Watson’s monograph and cannot pretend to do justice to it as a whole. Nevertheless, in connection with the Chapter entitled “References in Literature to Relevant Imagery,” it seems worth while to cite from St. Bernard, De Adventu Domini, II, 4 “From these passages I think it now manifest what is the stem proceeding from the root of Jesse, and what is the flower on which reposeth the Holy Spirit. For the Virgin Mother of God is the stem, her Son the flower... O Virgin! Stem of the highest, to what a summit thou liftest on high thy holiness! Even to Him that sitteth on the throne, even to the Lord in His majesty.... O true tree... O true tree of life, which alone was worthy to bear the fruit of salvation!” As St. Bernard died A.D. 1153, and the passages cited being taken from a sermon suggest that the theme cannot have been one altogether unfamiliar when the sermon was preached, the text is undoubtedly pertinent to the problem of the iconography; and one may suspect that a thorough search of the patristic literature would yield more material of the same sort. An although of later date, reference may be made to Ecklhart’s sermon No. LXI in the Evans version, in which he says “Our philosophers teach that the sun draws the flowers out of the roots through the stem, timelessly wellnigh and too subtly for any eye to follow... Jesse means a fire and a burning; it signifies the ground of divine love and also the ground of the soul. Out of this ground the rod grows, i.e. in the purest and highest; it shoots up out of this virgin soil at the breaking forth of the Son. Upon the rod opens a flower, the flower of the Holy Ghost.” That “Jesse means a fire” evidently rests upon some hermeneutic etymology, and one would like to know its source; in any case, there results an assimilation to the Burning Bush, which is a form of the Tree of Life, and for which there are also Oriental parallels. I may be noted that in the Vysehred MS (Watson, p. 83) the rubus igneus of Moses virgula Aaron, porta clausa of Ezekiel, and virgula Jessa are shown on two contiguous pages, and as Watson comments “It is clear that these four subjects have been put together on account of a community of significance.”

[1] If it is argued that Christ’s descent into “hell” allowed for their salvation, this is only to say that all salvation comes through the Word, which is indeed Christ. As St. Clement of Alexandria taught, Christ himself is Wisdom, and that it was his working that showed itself in the [Old Testament] prophets., and that the same wisdom was taught to the Apostles while He was present in the flesh. Jean Borella puts it well: Christianity being the religion ofChrist, is by that very fact the religion of Gnosis (Wisdom) Incarnate, since the Word is the Gnosis of the Father. Now this Gnosis Incarnate is also the preeminent spiritual way: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”Jean Borella, The Gnosis with a True Name in The Secret of the Christian Way. SUNY, 2001T

[2] De. Nat. Virg. Mar. III

[3] This material is taken from an article by Stephen Cross entitled St. Augustine and the perennial Philosophy published in Avaloka, Vol VI, Nos 1&2, 1992 (ISBN0890-5541)

[4] The question of the “infallible” nature of the Magisterium has currently been called into question. However, as Leo XIII stated, for the Magisterium to contradict itself is to declare that Christ has taught error. Clearly however, one can point to many statements with seemingly Magisterial authority currently being promulgated that contradicts prior Magisterial teachings. I discuss this in some detail in an article on my web page Coomaraswamy-catholic-writings.com.

[5] These failings are by no means limited to Christianity. Moslems frequently accuse Christianity of being polytheistic because of their belief in the Trinity, and Hinduism is frequently described as such which is in fact absurd.

[6] Originally published in Parnassus, Vol. VI, No. 8, January, 1935.pp. 18-19.(Slightly edited)

[7] As an example of this AKC offers the following in a footnote. Natya Sastra, II, 5 (Indian 4th Century) “All the activities of the angels, whether at home in their own places or abroad in the breaths of life, are intellectually emanated; those of men are put forth by conscious effort; therefore it is that the works to be done by men are defined in detail,” with (1) Plotinus, Enneads, IVC, 3, 18 “Souls in the Supreme operate without reasoning... all their acts must fall into place by sheer force of their nature,” (2) Gregory, Moral. II, “Angels do not go abroad in such a manner as to lose the delights of inward contemplation,” (3) St. Thomas, Sum Theol.,m I. Q. 112 a. 1. Ad 3 “We give ourselves to action through the sensitive faculties, the action of angel, on the contrary regulates his exterior actions by the intellectual operation alone, “ (4) Eckhart I, 5, “Man requires many instruments for his external works; much preparation is needed ere he can bring them forth as he has imagined them... More exalted are the angels, who need less means for their works and have fewer images.”

[8] In the Mahabharata (ii, 272, 44 and xii, 207, 13) “As soon as that Eternal Being [Narayana] concentrated thought upon a New Creation of the Universe a lotus flower immediately came into existence from His navel and the four-faced Brahma came forth from that navel-lotus.” Narayana is the supreme deity of the later Vedic period and is effectively identical with Brahma. Bearing this in mind, we can recognize the tradition already in the Rg. Veda (x, 82, 5): “Prior to the sky, prior to this earth, prior to the living gods, what is that germ which the waters held first and in which all the gods existed? The waters held that same germ in which all the gods exist/or find themselves; on the navel of the Unborn stood that in which all beings stood.” Further, in the Athara Veda (x, 7, 38) we have a description of Brahma as “a great Yaksa” in the midst of creation, lying upon the sea in penance, therein are set whatever gods there are, like the branches of a tre round about a trunk.” The conception of a tree of life rooted in Brahma recurs also in the Katha Upanishad (vi,1): “This eternal fig tree! That [root] is indeed the Pure. That is Brahma.” It occurs again in a somewhat different way in the Bhagavad Gita (xv, 1-3). That our tree of life, in which all beings are set, should be rooted in a naval, whether of Brahma, Narayana, or Jesse is significant.

[9] De Pulchro, part of the Summa de Bono, see Gramann in Sitz. Bayer, Akad. Wiss. Phil. Kl., 1926 Abb. 5, p. 82. Ulrich Engelbert of Strassbrg died A.D. 1277

[10] It is worth nothing that the two dragons kn otted about the “waist” of the fasces, vajra, or “thunderbolt” which in the Bazaklik representation divides the upper from the lower range (and corresponds to the Vedic skamba and Gnostic sthauros that at once divides and connects Heaven and Earth) are reminiscent of the paired dragons or nagas that guard the Tree of Life in a well-known Indus Valley seal, often reproduced, e.g. in my History of Indian and Indonesian Art, Fig. 6, cf Fig 243 in Grunwedel’s Altbuddhistische Kultstatten in Chinesich-Turkistan. Parallels in Greek mythology will readily suggest themselves.

Read more!

24 juin 2006

Nicolae Berdiaev, Le ciel et l’enfer, (fragments)

Le besoin d’immortalité est un des besoins les plus profonds de l’être humain. Mais les croyances à l’immortalité se ressentent aussi de la limitation de l’être humain, de ses mauvais instincts qui lui ont suggéré le tableau du paradis, et surtout celui de l’enfer. Il lui était particulièrement difficile de se représenter le paradis, car, malgré tout, l’enfer est plus familier, moins relégué dans l’au-delà. Or, le tableau du paradis provoquait facilement l’ennui. La question du paradis a beaucoup inquiété Dostoïevski qui a émis à son sujet des pensées très profondes comme, par exemple, dans le Rêve de l’homme ridicule. Pour lui, la question du paradis se rattachait à celle de la liberté. Il ne concevait pas le paradis sans la liberté. Mais la liberté pouvait également créer un enfer. L’image peu engageante du paradis que l’homme a meublé des sensualités de ce monde-ci, dans lequel des justes eux-mêmes éprouvaient une volupté à la vue des tortures subies par les pécheurs relégués dans l’enfer, s’explique par le fait que le paradis a toujours été pensé d’une façon aussi peu apophatique que possible. Pensé cataphatiquement, il sera toujours insupportable, incompatible avec nos sentiments moraux et esthétiques. La vie est toujours et partout infinie. Or, le paradis pensé cataphatiquement est un paradis fini, dépourvu de toute vie authentiquement créatrice.

(fragment de l’ouvrage Dialectique existentielle du divin et de l’humain, 1947)

Le cauchemar de l’enfer résulte de la confusion entre l’Infini et l’Éternel. Mais l’idée de l’éternel enfer est absurde. L’enfer n’est pas éternel, car il n’y a pas d’autre éternité que la divine. L’enfer est une mauvaise infinitude, l’impossibilité de sortir du temps pour entrer dans l’éternité. L’enfer est un cauchemar spectral, résultat de l’objectivation de l’existence humaine plongée dans le temps de notre éon. Un enfer éternel serait un échec et une défaite de Dieu, une condamnation de la Création qui apparaîtrait alors comme une farce diabolique. Mais il y a beaucoup, beaucoup de chrétiens qui tiennent à conserver l’enfer... pas pour eux-mêmes naturellement. L’ontologie de l’enfer est la pire forme d’objectivation, la plus prétentieuse, inspirée par le sentiment de vengeance et celui de rancune. Mais la psychologie de l’enfer est possible et se rattache à une expérience réelle. La conception judiciaire de l’immortalité est une conception aussi basse que l’ancienne conception magique. L’élément pédagogique qui porte manifestement un caractère exotérique joue un grand rôle dans les théories traditionnelles sur l’immortalité. C’est la conception spirituelle de l’immortalité qui correspond à une conscience spirituelle plus élevée. Mais la conception spirituelle ne signifie pas que seule doive être considérée la partie spirituelle de l’homme. La résurrection de la chair doit également être comprise au sens spirituel. C’est le corps-âme qui est la semence, et c’est le corps-esprit qui est la moisson.

(fragment de l’ouvrage Dialectique existentielle du divin et de l’humain, 1947)

C’est à tort que l’enfer, en tant que châtiment purgé ad aeternum, est considéré comme un jugement de Dieu. Dans cette idée humaine, trop humaine, s’objective le pitoyable jugement terrestre, qui n’a rien de commun avec le jugement de Dieu. Quand l’orthodoxie condamne à l’enfer pour "hérésie", elle rend un arrêt humain. Or le jugement de Dieu, qu’attend l’âme humaine et toute la créature, aura vraisemblablement fort peu d’analogie avec cette condamnation. Selon ce jugement, les derniers seront les premiers et les premiers, derniers, ce que notre cerveau humain se refuse à comprendre. Aussi est-il inadmissible que l’homme prenne sur lui les prérogatives du jugement divin. Le jugement de Dieu viendra, mais ce sera un jugement porté sur l’idée même de l’enfer, qui s’effectuera par-delà notre distinction du bien et du mal. C’est peut-être cette idée qui se reflète dans la doctrine de la prédestination. Quoi qu’il en soit, la volonté morale de l’homme ne peut pas être orientée vers le refoulement d’un seul être en enfer, ne peut pas l’exiger, en tant que réalisation de la justice. Je puis encore admettre l’enfer pour moi-même, du fait qu’il existe dans le subjectif; je puis connaître des souffrances infernales et considérer qu’elles me sont justement infligées, mais je ne puis pas me réconcilier avec l’idée de l’enfer pour les autres.
Il est difficile de comprendre et d’accepter la psychologie de ces chrétiens dévots qui admettent paisiblement que ceux qui les entourent, parfois même leurs proches, soient en enfer. En réalité, je ne devrais pas m’accommoder de l’idée que l’être avec lequel je prends le thé puisse être condamné à la damnation. Si les hommes étaient moralement plus sensibles, ils auraient tendu toute leur volonté vers la délivrance de chaque être qu’ils ont rencontré dans la vie. Et l’on a tort d’attribuer aux hommes ce désir, lorsqu’ils favorisent le développement des vertus morales chez les autres et leur affermissement dans la juste foi. La modification morale qui s’impose ici ne peut être qu’une modification de l’attitude à l’égard des méchants eux-mêmes, des réprouvés, elle ne peut se traduire que par le désir du salut pour eux, par l’acceptation de partager leur destinée. Cela revient à dire, que je ne puis pas me sauver individuellement, me faufiler, en quelque sorte, dans le Royaume de Dieu, en escomptant mes mérites personnels. Une semblable conception du salut détruit l’unité du cosmos. Je ne puis accepter le paradis pour moi, si mes parents, mes proches, ou même simplement les êtres que j’ai été amené à rencontrer dans la vie, doivent être en enfer, si Boehme y est condamné comme "hérétique", Nietzsche comme "antéchrist", Goethe comme "païen", et Pouchkine comme "pécheur". Je ne puis concevoir comment certains catholiques, qui dans leur théologie ne sauraient faire un pas sans Aristote, peuvent admettre en toute quiétude qu’il brûle dans l’enfer en tant que non-chrétien. Cette conception nous est devenue désormais intolérable, et ce fait marque un progrès considérable de la conscience morale. Si je suis à ce point redevable à Aristote ou à Nietzsche, je dois partager leur destinée, prendre sur moi leurs tourments, les libérer de l’enfer. La conscience morale débuta par la question divine: "Caïn, qu’as-tu fait de ton frère Abel?" Elle s’achèvera par cette autre question: "Abel, qu’as-tu fait de ton frère Caïn?"

(fragment de l’ouvrage De la destination de l’homme, Essai d’éthique paradoxale, 1931)

Read more!

14 juin 2006

Abu Hamid Al-Ghazzâlî, Al-Munqid min addalâl, (note de lectura)

Texte publié chez Hakîkat Kitâbevi, Istambul, Turquie.

Première partie. Introduction et position du problème

L’écriture est autobiographique.

Constat de la diversité des formes religieuses: « Sache que les religions et les croyances des hommes sont diverses; que les tendances de la communauté diffèrent, entre les groupes et les voies: océan profond où la majorité a sombré et dont une minorité s’est tirée. »

Affirmation qui éclaircit les traits de la personnalité d’Al-Ghazzâlî: “Pour moi, je n’ai jamais cessé, dès ma prime jeunesse, dès avant mes vingt ans jusqu’à ce jour (j’en ai plus de cinquante), de me lancer dans les profondeurs de cet océan [de la diversité des formes]. Je plonge dans ses gouffres en audacieux et non en homme craintif et timoré. Je m’enfonce dans les questions obscures; je me précipite sur les difficultés; Je me laisse choir hardiment dans les précipices; je scrute la croyance de chaque secte; j’examine les aspects cachés, du point de vue doctrinal, de chaque groupe religieux.”

intérioriste – batmî
extérieuriste – zahirî
philosophe – falsafî
science de la foi islamique - ‘Ilm-Ul-Kelâm
matérialiste – zindîq

Hadith: “Tout homme naît comme apte à la religion islamique, ce sont ses parents qui font de lui un juif, un chrétien ou un mazdéen”.

Parfois, Al-Ghazzâlî ressemble à Descartes, comme ici: « Une force intérieure me poussa à rechercher l’authenticité de la nature originelle et celle des croyances issues du conformisme des parents et des maîtres. Je cherchai à discerner, parmi ces traditions dont les prémisses sont passivement reçues, et dont la discrimination laisse place à la controverse. »

Il veut connaître « la réalité profonde des choses » et « l’essence de la connaissance ».

Sur le visage de la science recherchée: « Or, la science certaine est celle dont l’objet connu se révèle sans laisser de place au doute, sans qu’aucune possibilité d’erreur ou d’illusion ne l’accompagne; possibilité à laquelle le coeur ne se prêtrait même pas. Il faut donc que l’on soit à l’abri de l’erreur, et que ce sentiment soit lié à la certitude. Ainsi, toute tentative pour changer, par exemple, la pierre en or et la baguette en serpent, n’engendrerait ni doute, ni probabilité contraire; je sais bien que dix est plus grand que trois; si quelqu’un vient me prétendre le contraire, et le veut prouver, devant moi, en changeant incontinent une baguette en serpent, aucun doute, de ce fait, ne saurait m’atteindre. Certes je m’étonnerais d’un pareil pouvoir, mais ne douterais point de ma science. » [Il est intéressant de constater que les allusions sont faites à l’alchimie, à la théurgie et aux mathématiques.]

Deuxième partie. Les sophistes et le problème radical de la connaissance

Encore du pur carthésianisme: « Je fus alors livré au désespoir, me trouvant incapable d’aborder les problèmes autres que les évidences — celles des sens et celles de la raison. Il me fallait clairement discerner la nature de ma confiance dans les données sensibles et de mon assurance d’être à l’abri de l’erreur dans les nécessités de raison. »

Le trajet intellectuel commence par la mise en doute des données sensibles et des nécessités de la raison. Le résultat est la perte de la foi en les données sensibles.

La vue se trompe, ayant besoin d’une coréction extérieure: « La vue, pourtant le principal nos sens, fixant une ombre, la croit immobile et figée et conclut au non-mouvement. Au bout d’une heure d’observation expérimentale, elle découvre que cette ombre a bougé, non pas d’un coup, mais progressivement, peu à peu, de sorte qu’elle n’a jamais cessé de se déplacer. L’oeil regarde une étoile: il la voit réduite à la taille d’une pièce d’un dinâr, alors que les arguments mathématiques montrent que cet astre est plus grand que la terre. Voilà l’exemple de données sensibles au sujet duquel un organe des sens porte un jugement où la raison fait apparaître une erreur indéniable. »

La raison semble infaillible. « Mais peut-être y a-t-il, au delà de la raison, un autre jugement dont l’apparation convaincrait d’erreur la raison elle-même, tout comme celle-ci le fit pour les sens? Que cette intelligence ne se manifeste point, ne prouve pas qu’elle soit impossible... » Comment avoir de la confiance dans la raison, tant que l’on sait que pendant le sommeil on ne doute jamais de l’inconsistance des phantasmes de l’imagination. « Ne pourrait-on s’imaginer dans un état qui serait, à la veille, ce que celle-ci est au sommeil? La veille serait alors le rêve de cet état, et ce dernier montrerait bien que l’illusion de la connaissance rationnelle n’est que vaine imagination. »

Cet état de grâce est celui dont se réclament les sûfî.

Hadith: « Les hommes sont endormis, en mourant ils se réveillent. »

sophisme – safsata;

« Le mal empira et se prolongea pendant deux mois, durant lesquels je me trouvais en proie au “sophisme”. C’était là mon état d’âme réel, quoique rien n’en transparût dans mes paroles. Finalement, Allah me guérit et je recouvrai la santé et l’équilibre mental. »

La solution vient d’Allâh: « Je n’y suis pas arrivé par des raisonnements bien ordonnés, ou des discours méthodiquement agencés, mais au moyen d’une Lumière que Allah a projeté dans ma poitrine. Cette lumière-là est la clé de la plupart des connaissances. Celui qui croit que le “dévoilement du vrai” est le fruit d’arguments bien ordonnés, rétrécit l’immense miséricorde divine. »

Troisième partie. Les catégories des chercheurs

Il s’agit de quatre catégories:

1°) Les “Savant en foi” (mutakallimûn), qui prétendent au discernement et à la spéculation;

2°) Les “Intérioristes” (bâtiniyya), qui tiennent pour l’”Enseignement” (ta’lim) et (c’est leur caractéristique) pour la nécessité d’un Imâm infaillible;

3°) Les “Philosophes” (falâsifa), qui sont férus de logique et de preuve;

4°) Les “Mystiques” (sûfiyya), qui veulent avoir le privilège de La Présence, de la Vision et de la Révélation.

Abu Hamid a suivi les quatre voies, afin de trouver la Vérité.

Chapitre premier. La Science de la Foi Musulmane (kalâm). Son but et ses résultats

[Al-kalâm est l’équivalent de la scolastique chrétienne. D’ailleurs, la traduction française utilise le terme “scolastique”.]

C’est une science « qui convient à ses propres fins », mais pas aux fins du chercheur de la Vérité. Son but est de conserver la pureté de la croyance sunnite contre les hérésies.

Sur al-kalâm: « Pour moi, la scolastique n’était pas suffisante sur mon cas. Elle ne pouvait me guérir. Il est vrai qu’au bout d’une longue pratique, ses docteurs voulurent tenter de défendre la Tradition, en scrutant les réalités profondes des choses. Ils ont entrepris des recherches sur les substances, les accidents et leurs lois. Mais, comme le but de leur science était ailleurs, ce qu’ils en ont dit est resté en deçà de son terme. Et le résultat n’a pas dissipé les obscures hésitations des controverses humaines. »

Chapitre II. La Philosophie (Falsafa)

Sur l’engagement de sa démarche: « Je savais bien qu’il est impossible de savoir par où pèche une science quelconque, sans la pénétrer à fond, pour rivaliser avec ses meilleurs connaisseurs. Il faut même aller plus loin, dépasser ceux-ci et sonder les profondeurs et les périls que toute science dissimule. C’est seulement ainsi qu’on peut espérer en mettre au jour le point faible... »

Encore sur le sérieux de son entreprise: « J’ai appris que, réfuter un système avant de le comprendre et de le connaître à fond, serait le faire à l’aveuglette. Je me suis mis donc sérieusement à l’acquisition de cette science dans les livres, par la seule lecture, sans le secours d’un professeur. Je l’ai fait durant les moments de loisir que me laissaient le travail de composition et l’enseignement du droit canon: j’avais alors trois cents étudiants à Baghdad. »

Toutes les branches de la philosophies doivent être taxées d’hérésies.

A. Les catégories des philosophes

1. Les Matérialistes (dahriyyûn). Ils nient l’existence de l’Agent Moteur de l’univers. Ce sont des athées (zindîq).

2. Les Naturalistes (tabi’iyyûn). En étudiant la nature, ils ont été poussés à comprendre et à accepter qu’il y a un Createur. Mais, ils nient le Paradis et l’Enfer, la Résurection et le Jugement. Ce sont aussi des athées (zindîq).

3. Les Theistes (ilâhiyyûn), tels Socrate et Platon, ont combatu les matérialistes et les naturalistes. Il faut tenir pour hérétique les musulmans Avicenne (Ibn Sina) et Al-Fârâbî [Ici, Al-Ghazzâli n’est pas excessivement clair quant à l’argumentation].

B. Les branches de la philosophie

1. Les mathématiques. Ne présentent aucun rapport avec les questions religieuses. Elles présentent deux risques:

a) L’étudiant est frappé par la force convaincante de cette science. Il étend cette confiance à l’ensemble des disciplines philsophiques. Un jour le même étudiant entend que les mathématiciens sont des hérétiques, et il formule la question suivante: « Si la Révélation est vraie, comment se fait-il que les savants mathématiciens ne l’ont point reconnue? » suivie par le raisonnement: « La vérité consiste à nier la Révélation. »

b) Le deuxième risque provient du musulman ignorant. Celui-ci va jusqu’à nier des choses évidentes comme les éclipses de soleil et de lune, en prétendant qu’elles sont contraires à la Révélation. L’homme instruit tirera, à tort, la conclusion que l’Islam est contre les preuves apodictiques.

En réalité, les sciences ne s’opposent nullement à la religion.

2) La logique. Elle n’a rien en commun avec la foi. Le but de la logique est l’examination des méthodes, des arguments et des raisonnements par analogie. Elle ramène la connaissance soit au concept (définition), soit au jugement de véridicité (preuve).

Il ne faut pas condamner la logique, même les scolastiques s’en sont servis.

Le danger de la logique est le désir d’accumuler, quant aux questions religieuses, les conditions capables d’engendrer la certitude.

3. Les sciences naturelles. Elles traitent du monde céleste et de ses astres, ainsi que des corps simples au-dessous d’eux, tels que l’eau, l’air, la terre et le feu, et des corps composés (tels que les animaux, les végétaux et les minéraux.

Le principe des sciences naturelles est de reconnaître que la nature est au service du Tout-Puissant.

4. La Théodicée. Elle contient la plupart des erreurs des philosophes. Il s’agit de vingt erreurs, trois hérétiques et dix-sept inventions (bid’at). [Celles-ci ont été réfutées dans le traité L’incohérence des Philosophes.]

Les trois chefs de l’hérésie sont:

a) La prétention qu’au Jugement Derniers le corps humains ne seront pas rassemblés, et que seuls les âmes seront punies ou récompensées. Ils ont raison d’insister sur le spirituel, mais tort de nier le corporel.

b) Ils assurent que Allah connaît l’universel, mais point le particulier.

c) Ils affirment la préexistence de l’Univers et son éternité.

Ils nient les attributs divins.

5. La Politique. Science du gouvernement.

6. L’Ethique. C’est une doctrine que les philosophes ont emprunté aux mystiques (sûfi) pour mieux répandre leurs erreurs.

Sur les sûfi: « Il y avait, en effet, de leur temps (comme toujours), un de ces groupes d’hommes d’Allah dont Allah ne laisse jamais le monde privé. Ces hommes sont les piliers qui soutiennent la terre, et la miséricorde divine descend sur elle grâce à leur rayonnement spirituel, conformément à la parole de Muhammad: “C’est par eux que vous vient la pluie, et par eux votre subsistance. Les Dormants de la Caverne étaient de ces hommes-là [Eshab-ı Kehf]”. »

C. Les dangers de la philosophie

1. Danger de rejeter la philosophie.

Les esprits faibles ont cru devoir écarter les paroles des Prophètes et des Mystiques parce que les philosophes les avaient englobés dans leurs écrits. Comme les philosophes sont dans l’erreur, ces paroles seraient mensongeres.

« C’est là le tort des esprits faibles: ils ne reconnaissent la vérité que dans la bouche de certains hommes, au lieu de reconnaître les hommes lorsqu’ils disent la vérité. »

Ali ibn Abî Talîb a dit: « Ne reconnais pas la vérité dans la bouche de certains hommes, mais reconnaîs d’abord la vérité, et tu reconnaîtras ensuite les véridiques. »

Une réponse aux critiques de son œuvre: « D’autre part, certains de mes lecteurs ont critiqué quelques passages de mes livres, relatifs aux mystères de la religion. Ils n’ont pas suffisamment approfondi les sciences, et leur esprit n’a pu embrasser l’éventail complet des tendances. Ils ont cru que certains de mes propos étaient empruntés aux Anciens. En réalité, telles de mes expressions étaient le fruit de mes propres réflexions (et pourquoi la trace d’un cheval n’irait-elle pas recouvrir celle d’un autre?) et telles autres se trouvent dans les textes sacrés; beaucoup d’autres, enfin, sont aussi, en substance, dans les ouvrages des Mystiques. »

Il ne faut pas repousser les vérités déjà découvertes par les auteurs égarés: le récipient ne change pas le goût du miel.

Erreur commun: « La plupart des gens admettent un propos, même faux, s’il est tenu par quelqu’un qu’ils apprécient; tandis qu’ils n’en veulent pas, même vrai, dans la bouche de ceux qu’ils n’aiment point. C’est encore reconnaître la vérité selon la qualité de ceux qui parlent, au lieu de reconnaître ceux-ci selon qu’ils disent ou non la vérité. »

2. Danger d’admettre la Philosophie.

Il faut interdire la lecture des philosophes, parce que le risque est d’admettre leurs erreurs à cause de la part de vérité qu’ils renferment. L’interdiction est une mesure de précaution dans le genre de la prudence de tenir à l’écart de la mer ceux qui ne savent pas nager. Cette prudence ne concerne pas les nageurs expérimentés.

Chapitre III. La théorie de l’« enseignement » (ta’lim) et les maux qu’elle engendre

[Il s’agit de la théorie appelée ta’limisme, forme de l’ismaélisme shi’ite. Ghazâlî l’a nomme aussi bâtinisme. Les adeptes sont nommés ta’limiyya ou bâtiniyya.]

Les partisans de l’« Enseignement » (ta’lim) répandent les théories sur l’acquisition de la connaissance par l’intermédiaire de l’Imâm véridique infaillible. C’est vrai qu’il faut un maître, mais ce maître existe, il s’agit du Prophète Muhammad.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazâlî a étudié la doctrine des bâtiniyya, parce qu’on ne peut pas juger de ce dont on n’a pas été instruit.

Le Prophète a dit: “Je juge sur les apparances; c’est Allah qui a la charge des secrets”. Ce qui signifie: “Je juge d’après l’opinion générale, recueillie auprès de témoins faillibles”.

« [...] le miracle ne prouve l’authenticité, qu’à condition de connaîter aussi la magie et de bien distinguer entre elle et le miracle. »

Jugement définitif dans cette question: « Je veux me borner à faire ressortir que ces hommes n’offrent aucun remède aux ténèbres des diverses opinions. Malgré leur impuissance à prouver la désignation de l’Imâm, nous avons été longtemps d’accord avec eux. Nous avons partagé leur conviction de la nécessité d’un “Enseignement” et d’un maître infaillible, qui serait le leur. Mais, à nos questions sur l’enseignement de ce maître, aux problèmes que nous leur avons posés, ils n’ont rien compris et n’ont su que répondre. Ils nous ont alors renvoyés à l’Imâm caché, en disant: “il faut absolument aller le voir”. Ils ont l’étrange prétention d’avoir trouvé le maître qu’ils ont cherché: mais ils n’ont rien appris de lui. Ils sont comme quelqu’un de malpropre qui s’épuiserait à trouver de l’eau, mais ne se laverait pas et resterait sale. »

Chapitre IV. La voie mystique (sûffiya)

Définition de la Voie mystique: « Elle consiste à reconnaître science et action pour également nécessaires. Elle vise à lever les obstacles personnels (nafs, désirs sensuels) et à purifier le caractère de ses défauts. Le coeur finit ainsi par être débarrassé de tout ce qui n’est pas Allah (tout ce qui est autre qu’Allah), pour se parer du seul nom d’Allah. »

Les noms cités: Abû Tâlib Al-Makkî, Al-Hârit al-Muhâsibî, Al-Junayd, Al-Shiblî, Abû Zayd al-Bistâmî.

Ce qui leur est spécifiquement propre ne peut s’atteindre que par les « goûts », les états d’âme et la mutation des attributs. La différence entre le musulman habituel et le soufi est comme la différence entre celui qui connaît les traits de la santé et celui qui est bien portant (ou celui qui a une connaissance théorique de l’art culinaire et celui qui est rassasié). « L’ivrogne ne connaît pas la définition et la science de l’ivresse: il ne s’en doute même pas. Et celui qui est sobre les connaît bien, quoiqu’il soit à jeûn. De même, un médecin malade connaît bien la définition de la santé, ses causes et les remèdes qui la rétablissent: il est pourtant malade. Eh bien, connaître la réalité de la vie ascétique, avec ses conditions et ses causes, est une chose; mais c’en est une tout autre que d’être effectivement dans l’état d’âme de l’ascétisme et due détachement des biens de ce monde. »

Témoignage personnel: « Grâce à mes recherches dans le domaine des sciences, tant religieuses que rationnelles, j’en étais arrivé à une foi inébranlable en Allah, à la Révélation et au Jugement Dernier. Ces trois principes religieux s’étaient fortement gravés dans mon coeur, non comme effet d’arguments choisis et rédigés, mais à la suite de motifs, de circonstances et d’expériences qu’il ne m’est pas possible d’énumérer. »

L’examen de conscience pousse Al-Ghazzâli à suivre la Voie. En dépit de sa foi en Allah, il se rend compte qu’il est « au bord branlant d’un précipice ». Il décide maintes fois de quitter Baghdad à la recherche d’un cheikh, mais il y reste quand même par indécision et manque de force. Un jour, « Allah lui noue la langue », étrange maladie à point de départ strictement spirituel. Il décide de se remettre à Allah, en renonçant à la famille, aux honneurs, à l’argent et aux amis. Il quitte Baghdad en feignant la décision d’accomplir le Hajj.

Arrivée à Damas. Vie en solitude, enfermé « en haut du minaret », après s’être enfermé dedans. Suit Jérusalem et la Mosquée du Rocher. Après: Mekke et Médine. Retour à Baghdad.

Jugement sur les sufiyya: « Il me suffira de déclarer que les Mystiques (şûfi) suivent, tout particulièrement, la Voie d’Allah. Leur conduite est parfaite, leur Voie droite, leur caractère vertueux. Que l’on additionne donc la raison des raisonnables, la sagesse des sages, la science des Docteurs de la Loi sharî’at)! Peut-on compter ainsi améliorer leur conduite, ou leur caractère? Sûrement point! »

Les Mystiques (sufî) arrivent à la Proximité. Il est impossible de parler des états vécus par ceux-ci. Les états d’extase sont indéscriptibles.

La Science, c’est la vérification par la preuve.

La Gustation, c’est l’intime connaissance de l’extase.

La Foi, c’est l’acceptation des témoignages oraux et de ceux de l’expérience.

Quatrième partie. La réalité de la Prophétie

La substance de l’homme a été créée simple et vide.

L’homme entre en rapport avec le monde par sa perception. Le premier sens est le toucher. Et puis c’est l’ouïe. Ensuite vient le goût. Le discernement (acquis vers sept ans) ouvre la voie vers l’intellect. Au-delà de l’intellect se trouve « une troisième œil » qui permet de voir « ce qui est caché, ce qui arrivera dans l’avenir, et bien d’autres choses encore, aussi étrangères à l’intellect que le sont les connaissances rationnelles au discernement, et celui-ci à la perception des sens ».

Celui qui ne connaît pas le niveau supra-rationnel, le nie purement et simplement. De même, l’aveugle qui n’a jamais vu les couleurs ne peut pas les concevoir.

Les propriétés prophétiques sont semblables aux rêves prémonitoires. Un homme qui n’aurait aucune expérience personnelle du sommeil pourrait dire: « les facultés sensibles sont les facteurs de la perception; comment celui qui ne perçoit pas certaines choses à l’état de veille, les precevrait-il quand il dort? »

L’intellect n’est qu’une étape: le troisième œuil (l’intuition) est un état bien supérieur. La Prophétie perçoit des choses qui échappent à l’intellect.

Hadith: « Celui qui agit selon ce qu’il sait, Allah lui donne en partage de connaître ce qu’il ne savait pas! »

Hadith: « Celui qui n’a qu’un souci en tête, Allah le tiendra quitte des soucis de ce monde et de l’autre. »

La Prophétie est meilleure que les prodiges, qui peuvent renvoyer à la magie, à l’illusion et même au piège tendu par Allah. La croyance en miracles ne peut pas être confodue avec la foie en Allah, mais les miracles peuvent renforcer la foi.

Cinquième partie. Raison de mon retour à l’enseignement

A. Les médecins des cœurs

L’homme a un corps et un « cœur », c’est-à-dire un esprit qui est le siège de la connaissance d’Allah. Le cœur fait la différence entre l’homme et l’animal ou le cadavre. Le corps peut être en bonne santé ou malade – les cœurs aussi. Ignorer Allah ou Lui désobéir sont les causes des maladies du cœur.

Les pratiques religieuses sont définies, mésurées par les Prophétes. Leurs modalités d’action ne peuvent pas être perçues par l’intellect. « Il faudrait beaucoup de sottise et d’ignorance pour chercher, à ces distinctions, un motif “raisonnable”, ou les expliquer par simple coïncidence. »

Les Prophètes sont des médecins des « cœurs ».

B. La tièdeur de la foi

Les hommes ont peu de foi dans la Prophétie. Les responsables de cet état de choses sont en nombre de quatre:

a) les Philosophes;

b) les Mystiques (sûfi);

c) les partisans de l’Enseignement (secte shi’a);

d) les hommes de science.

Vives critiques dirigées contre ceux qui vivent un Islam à moitié de mesure (en évitant certains aspects).

C. Mon retour à l’enseignement

« Alors, ma décision jaillit, comme un silex, nette et précise: “à quoi bon la solitude et la retraite, quand le mal est universel, que les médecins sont malades, et les hommes sur le point de périr”? »

La mission officielle d’Al-Ghazzâlî à Nishâpûr, après onze ans de retraite. Il témoigne n’avoir jamais « revenu » à son enseignement, parce que « revenir » signifie retourner à un état antérieur. Or, il enseignait avant de devenir sûfî pour obtenir des honneurs, tandis qu’après précisément comment renoncer aux honneurs.

Doutes sur le succès de sa mission, et prière: « Pourtant, je crois, d’une croyance certaine, fondée sur la “Vision”, qu’il n’y a de force et de puissance qu’en Allah. Je n’ai pas remué, c’est Lui qui m’a déplacé. Je n’ai pas agi, c’est Lui qui s’est servi de moi. Je Lui demande donc, d’abord, de me rendre meilleur et puis, d’améliorer les autres par mon exemple; de me guider, puis de guider les autres à travers moi; de me montrer la Vérité vraie, et de me donner de la suivre; de me montrer enfin l’erreur complète, et de m’accorder de lui échapper. »

D. Remède pour les tièdes

1) Pour ceux embarrassés par les partisans de l’Enseignement: le traité La Juste Balance (Qistas-ul-Mustaqîm);

2) Pour les confusions inventées par les Libertins: le traité Alchimie du Bonheur (Kimya-yi Se’âdet);

3) Pour ceux dont la Philosophie a gâché la foi, il y a l’argument des remèdes de la religion, qui échappent à la raison ordinaire;

« La foi en la Prophétie, c’est la certitude de l’existence d’une zone supra-rationnelle, où s’ouvre un “oeil” doué d’une perception particulière. L’intellect en est exclu, comme le sont: l’ouïe, de la perception des couleurs, la vue, de celle des sons, et tous les sens, de celle des données rationnelles. »

La Philosophie, les Sciences Naturelles et la Théodicée se représentent les choses en les mettant à la portée de leurs entendement. Ce qu’ils ne connaissent pas, ils les déclarent impossibles.

4) La quatrième cause de tiédeure religieuse est le spectacle de la conduite des savants. Ici il y a trois arguments possibles:

a) Le savant pêche par concupiscence, tout comme celui qui mange quelque chose d’interdit par son médecin le fait par envie et non pas pour dénigrer la médecine;

b) Le savant ne vit pas selon sa science, mais la considère comme un viatique;

c) Le vrai savant ne pêche que par inadvertence, mais ne persévère point dans l’erreur.

« La vraie science n’a rien à voir avec les autres sciences dont s’occupent la plupart des hommes, et qui ne les poussent qu’à pécher davantage. Elle inspire un surcroît de révérence et de crainte, et elle retient de commettre des péchés (autres que les fautes vénielles, intermittentes, inévitables). Celles-ci ne prouvent point la faiblesse de la foi, car le Croyant succombe et se repent, ce qui est tout autre chose que de persévérer dans l’erreur. »

Read more!

10 juin 2006

David Moss, The Alphabet of the Angel Metatron - An Artistic Interpretation of an Ancient Mystical Hebrew Alphabet, (full text)

Introduction and translation by Yoni Moss

This portfolio is dedicated to my dear mother, Shirley Moss, in love and gratitude.

Among the many Hebrew letter forms which have now largely become defunct, there is a group of strange alphabets which were used exclusively for Kabbalah Maasit - practical Kabbalah, i.e. magic. These bear no apparent relationship to the common Hebrew letters. They were known by various names: angelic alphabets, characters, seals. They appear on ancient Greek magic papyri and on Aramaic incantation bowls; they continued to be used for centuries on amulets and were, until quite recent times, even written on mezuzot...

When I chanced upon the first publication of The Midrash on The Alphabet of Metatron, these strange letters were not unfamiliar to me. I recognized in them the characteristic forms of all of these magical alphabets: simple, straight and curved lines always ending with tiny circles. I had seen such letters in Sefer Raziel - probably the most popular book of Jewish magic. But the discovery of this charming midrash based entirely on this esoteric abecedary delighted me.

These are letters of power. They shine. They radiate. Their energy is almost palpable. Their graphic forms alone would have warranted my attempting an artistic interpretation. I felt that I had to try to convey the vibrancy in these simple, but very dynamic glyphs. Using white paper, black background and primary colors I worked through the letters, one by one, and developed a style I felt somehow captured the power within them.

But it was not only the shapes that interested me. I was equally fascinated by the possible connections between these magical scripts and our original alphabet, the one scholars call the Paleo-Hebrew letters. This alphabet is essentially the original alphabet. It points to the time when this perhaps most important human invention took on its nascent form. It is the alphabet that Moses, David and Isaiah would have used. It is the alphabet found in the few remaining inscriptions and many seals of the first Temple period. To this day the Samaritans have maintained letters very similar to our original Hebrew ones. It is virtually the same as the Phoenecian alphabet which gave birth to the Greek letters which also evolved into this Roman alphabet you are now reading...

Upon our return from the Babylonian exile some two and a half millennia ago, we began using the Aramaic alphabet which gradually replaced the Paleo-Hebrew. This is the alphabet we now commonly refer to as the Hebrew alphabet and currently use for all sacred and secular writing.

There is speculation that these magical alphabets may somehow be connected to our original Hebrew letters. At first glance there certainly does seem to be a general resemblance in the way the letters are formed. Upon careful examination of each individual letter, however, the connections become much more tenuous. Nevertheless, the mere idea that somehow these magical letters might be a lone remnant of the original Hebrew letters intrigued me. Could our ancient letters have gone underground and been transmuted into the wildly diverse variants of magic letters that somehow survived? Whatever their origin, these bizarre characters do seem to have a remarkable longevity and vitality reaching antiquity through to a twenty-first century artistic portfolio!

Had I been asked when I created this series, or even a good bit after, what had been the sources of my fascination with these letters, I would certainly have merely recited the above: the power I sensed in the forms themselves and the fascinating speculation on their possible origins. It was only quite recently, long after I had completed the first sketches of the entire alphabet, and after Bet Alpha had decided to publish this portfolio, that I was sitting in Paul Feinstein's living room and his rather offhanded comment stunned me into recognizing yet another thread. "Don't these letters remind you of STL?" he mused. I had even forgotten the initials we had given nearly thirty years ago to the system of electronic recognition of handwritten characters which I worked on in the early 70's and called Stroke Terminal Logic. Indeed, the diagrams from the unfortunately expired patents bear a striking resemblance to these arcane Hebrew letters. The simple strokes are there, and at the end of each of them, a tiny circle. A dim memory from a previous career.

Perhaps it was mere coincidence that these prints were in process when, out of the blue, a patent attorney from the company that makes the Palm Pilot tracked me down through my co-inventor, Jim Liljenwall in Santa Fe. The attorney explained that he needed our help in a lawsuit over patents held by Xerox but which he believed were anticipated by ours and therefore not valid. Even my intensive search of old business records and my rereading the patents themselves didn't make the connection in my mind.

But I have no doubt that Paul was absolutely right. There is a very close relationship among our patents, the system of electronic data entry now known as graffitiMT, and my fascination with the Alphabet of Metatron.

David Moss
Jerusalem, 5761

The Midrash on the Alphabet of Metatron


Some time between Adam and Noah, between the world's creation and its watery destruction, a man named Enoch walked the earth. He apparently lived a righteous life, an exceptional feat during those long and corrupt generations. We know almost nothing about him. The Bible, in its characteristically terse and enigmatic style, encapsulates his life in four words: "he walked with God." No less enigmatic is the account of the end of Enoch's life in this world: "he was no more, for God took him." Plucked from the earth, disconnected from the rich web of material existence, Enoch apparently was abruptly transported into the incorporeal realms of heaven.

It seems he chose to remain above in his new celestial home, far removed from his former earthly world. We hear no more about Enoch for thousands of years until he eventually appears again in a mystical rabbinic text. According to this midrash, probably redacted in the third century, it was Rabbi Ishmael the High Priest, a colleague of the famed Rabbi Akiva, who finally merited an interview with the long gone, but never forgotten forefather.

Enoch, for reasons Rabbi Ishmael was about to discover, could not indulge in an earthly descent to his interlocutor's dwelling; instead Rabbi Ishmael would have to be lifted up to heaven. The pious sage was able to ascend and enter the first six halls of the celestial palace by his own merit, but at the door to the seventh hall, Kaftsiel and other resentful angels sought to hurl him down from the heavens. This made it necessary for Enoch himself to reach out a helping hand and draw Rabbi Ishmael up to him.

The hand outstretched towards Rabbi Ishmael was not a human hand of flesh and blood, but rather a tremendous wing of flaming fire, large enough to fill the world. Rabbi Ishmael, ignorant of the identity of his celestial guardian, naturally asked to be introduced. The angel presented himself as Metatron, Angel of the Divine Presence. He also had seventy more names, he said, corresponding to the seventy tongues of the world. Metatron then added, somewhat sentimentally, that the King of kings prefers to call him by another name: 'Youth.'

The Rabbi, accustomed Talmudic debater that he was, expressed his puzzlement. How is it that Metatron, the highest ranking angel, the Prince of the Divine Presence, possessing seventy names like the Master Himself, is, nonetheless, called in the high heavens by the seemingly belittling name 'Youth'? Metatron, patiently recalling the limited ways of human reasoning, replied:

The reason for this is that I am Enoch, the son of Yared. When the generation of the flood sinned, the Holy One, blessed be He, lifted me up before their very eyes, to be a witness against them for future generations. And the Holy One, blessed be He, made me into a prince and a ruler among the ministering angels. But because I am the youngest of the angels (all the rest have existed from the days of creation) they call me: 'Youth.'

Enoch-Metatron-Youth went on to relate the details of his ascent to heaven and his transformation into an archangel, God's personal servant, prince and ruler of all the children of heaven. He told of the special favor and affection God showed him, seating him on a throne similar to His own Throne of Glory, revealing all mysteries and secrets to him, clothing him in a garment of glory and finally crowning him with the royal title: "The Lesser LORD." We are not told how Rabbi Ishmael was lowered from the heavenly realms back down to earth; we do know, however, that Metatron remained on high.

Yet now, after having granted Rabbi Ishmael a generous view of the heavens, and a detailed review of his personal history, the young angel seems once again to have sequestered himself in the celestial realms, cutting off all contact with his origins. Though rabbis and mystics continued to speculate about him and imaginative midrashim described his various heavenly roles, yet no man received a revelation, a communication, or even an inspiration from the Prince of Presence. Centuries would elapse before Metatron would once again make his own presence felt to a mortal.
It is unclear when it happened. Many are convinced it was around the ninth century in Babylon, though others think it was in Germany in the thirteenth century. This time we are not told directly that the Prince of Presence is revealing himself. But what we can say for certain is that we have in our hands an anonymous text, an imaginative commentary on the twenty-two letters of an ancient alphabet called the Alphabet of the Angel Metatron. It is a short midrash based on the physical form of each of these strange letters and containing one, two, three, or four interpretations of each letter.

Although the author of this enchanting work never explicitly states his source of inspiration he does refer to "a certain angel" who inspires "countless insights." Would it be possible to uncover this angel's influence, to follow the traces he may have left behind? Were this any ordinary angel, tracking him or her down would be simple enough. The sages of the Talmud were able to detect the footprints angels left behind them in their earthly exploits. But they had at their disposal a description of angelic anatomy provided by the prophet Ezekiel, whereas Metatron, as he himself informed Rabbi Ishmael, is made only of fire. He has no corporal anatomy, he leaves no physical footprints. Might the mighty archangel leave, however, some other kind of impression? Let us reflect a bit on the alphabet and its midrash; hopefully something of Metatron's imprint will reveal itself to us.

The letters are all composed of straight and curved lines tipped with ringlets. Although this alphabetic style is not to be found in any conventional scripts, it is by no means unique. There are dozens of other very similar sets of mystical and magical signs and alphabets. This distinctive line and ringlet style (called "The Eye Script" by Jewish Kabbalists and "Eyeglassesletters" by German scholars), crops up over and over again in numerous texts, amulets and incantations. Such characters appear from antiquity to the present in cultures as diverse as Hellenistic Egypt, India, Jewish Palestine, China, medieval Europe, and early Islam. Sometimes channels of influence can be discerned, but often it seems clear that we have before us independent instances of the same phenomenon from around the world. How can we account for this remarkable universality? What is common to people in all quarters of the earth which would cause them to create the same type of characters when they begin to tread the realm of the mystical and magical?

"Look to the skies and see, gaze at the heavens above you" (Job 35:5). Above us is the one uniting factor, the selfsame sky looming over all humanity. Certain scholars trace the origin of our line-and-ringlet scripts to a simplified graphic projection of the constellations. The ringlets are the stars and the lines represent the imaginary connections between them, which allow groups of stars to form constellations. This is not a recent theory. A prolific sixteenth century philosopher and magician by the name of Cornelius Agrippa, in his compendium of occult practices, describes such a script, which he claims the Jews themselves call 'The Celestial Script.' "For these letters," he says, "form the outlines of constellations, just as the astrologers draw images out of the lines connecting the stars."

Metatron's letters are, therefore, one part of a universal phenomenon as expansive as the heavens, and maybe even inspired by them. In this respect, Metatron's alphabet is not unique. For the heavens and the stars are the province of all angels. Indeed Gabriel, Michael and Raziel each has his own very similar script. Metatron certainly shares the celestial qualities of all the other angels, but his uniqueness among the heavenly hosts is his origin - the earth.

Alone in the heavenly hosts, 'Youth,' now grown a little older, gazes down from his glorious throne to the earth below, recalling the landscapes of his former world. He gazes at the earth, very much as we would look up to the heavens. When we peer at the magnificent, remote stars, these majestic specks, we well understand how previous generations could have conceived them as spiritual beings and how they could have inspired our ancestors to connect them into zodiacal shapes. Metatron, child of heaven and man of earth, enjoys a literally upside-down view. Looking down from his realm of pure spirit onto the earth below, he seeks out those physical shapes which were formerly the backdrop of his corporal existence. Dreamily he contemplates the material contours of the simplest objects, the shapes and images that populate every corner of our world. Though we take them for granted as the stage of our existence, the warp and woof of our lives, Metatron, a creature reborn as pure fire, longingly savors every line and contour, every shape and curve of his former material world. He begins to draw resemblances between the images of his contemplation. Like an abstract artist he sees images everywhere, figures become outlines, and outlines become shapes. Grand, mast-filled ships are reduced to stark curves and lines; a household bucket becomes one swift stroke of an imaginary pen. Like a participant in a Rorschach inkblot test, or like a child drawing stick figures, the tremendous angel of fire sees objects everywhere. Bare lines are transformed into people; meaningless scribbles translated into trees. Each physical mark of extended, dimensional space effortlessly represents a definite image of his long-lost world.

His feverish occupation with the earthly forms gradually spills over into the earthly realm itself. The mighty Enoch-Metatron begins to inspire an anonymous Jew living, around the ninth century in Babylon, as many are convinced, though others think it was during the thirteenth century in Germany.

The pious Jew has set out to compose a midrash, an interpretation of the exalted angel's holy letters. He begins his task conventionally. Starting with the Aleph he counts eight ringlets and begins to ponder the significance of this number. Verses, sources and traditions, Talmudic, midrashic and mystical, race through his mind. He weaves them together, incorporating them into consecutive interpretations. He writes one interpretation after the other, moves on to Bet and then to Gimmel.
Then, as if from nowhere, he suddenly begins to view the letters in an entirely different way. As if filled with some other-worldly insight, he starts seeing images where before he was only able to count circles. The Gimmel's simple parabolic line becomes a bow and arrow, Dalet is a house, Vav's two right-angles are obviously steps and Zayin's line in a semi-circle is nothing but a fetus cuddling in its womb. By the time he completes all twenty-two letters of the alphabet our anonymous author has created the most imaginative, most delightfully pictorial midrash on the alphabet ever to be written.

Today we may take this type of seeing for granted. But taken in its proper historical context this midrash is way ahead of its time. The realm of pictorial imagination, the unfettered seeing of things in other things, was considered culturally insignificant for thousands of years. Reason and representation reigned supreme, and even when place was made for the imagination it was restricted to literature and other verbal accounts of reality. Even the wondrous, "unreasonable" and fantastically imaginative word games contained in our classic midrashim are all auditory. The sound of the word, or the letter, is playfully transformed and interpreted by the super-sensitive ear that knows no bounds. But when the classic midrash turns its eye on a letter, when shapes are examined and not sounds, it is unable to break free of the familiar confines of stark symbolic interpretations. Very much as our author began his midrash, counting ringlets, classic midrashim will also generally count the lines or notice the orientation of a letter. The next step, however, taken by an author who set his pictorial imagination free, is nigh absent from all earlier letter interpretations, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

The pictorial imagination of the Western mind was to undergo a slow and gradual development. Only in the Renaissance did artists begin to appreciate the wealth of images contained in such everyday objects as clouds and rocks, only then did dramatists begin to exploit the fundamental human propensity for untamed pictorial seeing. The development has culminated in various more recent applications such as Rorschach inkblot tests, the decipherment of Hieroglyphics (along with the realization that all alphabets ultimately stem from pictographs), and certain forms of abstract art.

Could such a tiny but so broad and sustained a monument of the imagination such as The Midrash on the Alphabet of Metatron have been a precursor, an influence on these later developments? Or was it merely a disconnected phenomenon, an exceptional feat, during those many unimaginative generations?

The question of the author's influence on subsequent generations remains unsolved. But perhaps, at least, we have learned, we have uncovered, a bit of the influences the author himself received. A bit about an angel, a certain angel who provides countless insights.

Yoni Moss
Jerusalem, 5761
The Midrash on the Alphabet of Metatron

1. Celestial Alphabet

2.The Malachim Alphabet


Alef has eight points. The Ten Commandments commence with an Alef - Anochi Hashem Elokecha - I am the Lord, your God. If a man keeps this letter and every other letter of the Torah he will be led upon his death by Metatron, Prince of Presence, into paradise, where Metatron will cloak him with eight dresses of Divine Presence.
Something else: God is Alef - one - and unique. In the six quarters of God's world - East, West, North, South, Above and Below - there is no god besides Him. And there is no god besides Him outside the world, above or below it. So Alef has eight points, just as God is alone in the six points of the world and in the two points outside of the world.

Something else: Alef has eight points because the throne of glory rests on the Holy Creatures. And each creature has four faces and four wings, as it is written, "And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings" (Ezekiel 1:6). So Alef has eight points: four faces and four wings.

Something else: Alef has eight points. Israel proclaim God as one, like Alef which is one, by wearing the T'fillin wherein is written, "Hear, O Israel, God is our Lord, God is One" (Deuteronomy 6: 4). So Alef has eight points like the T'fillin which contain eight passages from the Torah. God too wears T''fillin, put on Him by Metatron, which proclaim the oneness of Israel, "And who is like your people Israel, one nation on the earth" (Chronicles I 17:21).


Bet has four points - three face upwards and the fourth faces downwards. God set boundaries to three of the four quarters of the universe - East, West and South. The North quarter he kept boundless so that if some haughty king should ever claim to be a god he will be told, Behold, the Boreh - the creator - completed three of the universe's quarters; prove your power by completing the fourth.

Something else: Bet has four points. For after Israel pronounce the Sh'ma, "Hear, O Israel, God is our Lord, God is One," and after they declare God's kingship over the four quarters of the earth - North, South, East and West - they then commence with a Bet, "Baruch - blessed - is the Name of His Glorious Kingship forever and ever." And this is the meaning of the Talmudic passage, "Seeing that he was protracting the Sh'ma, he said to him, 'Once you have declared Him king over all that is above and below, and over the four quarters of the earth, no more is required.'"


"Gadol - great - is our Lord, and of great power" (Ps. 147:5).
Gloriously He sits on His throne of glory. The throne's footstool, which is called Adamdemet, rests on three legs, and three steps lead up from the footstool to the throne.

Their value also equals Zuot - perspiration. For the footstool shakes and trembles with fear of the One sitting on the throne. The footstool's perspiration, along with the perspiration of all the holy creatures, gushes down to Nahar Dinur - the River of Fire.

Something else: Gimmel, which is shaped like a bow and arrow, has three points. After the deluge, God swore never to flood the world again and He fixed the rainbow in heaven as a token of His oath. A bow also contains three images - bow, string, and arrow.

Something else: Gimmel is shaped like a bow and arrow. For our Sages have taught, "Who is Gibor - mighty? One who subdues his evil inclination." Elsewhere we are taught that the sage Pelimo completely subdued his evil inclination by "shooting arrows into the devil's eyes."


"Blessed is He who considers the Dal - the poor" (Psalms 41:2).
Dalet has four points, just like its numerical value, and it has openings both on top and at bottom. A man who earns riches and builds a home must make at least two openings for his house so that the Dalim - the poor - may freely enter.
A line flows down from the upper point to the lower one because God sends down his blessing upon those who sustain the poor. As it is written, "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse.....says the Lord of Hosts, I will open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you blessings immeasurable."

Something else: Dalet has four points, a descending diagonal, and two openings because when one sets mezuzot on the Delatot - doorposts - of his house, God Himself descends from heaven and fills the house with His presence, guarding it from danger. Also, any house with an area of Dalet by Dalet - four by four - cubits requires a mezuza.


The world was created out of a Heh. As the verse says,"These are the generations of the heaven and the earth - beHEHbera'am, when they were created with Heh."
(Genesis 2: 4). For this reason Heh has four points and two openings. Four points like the world's four quarters - East, West, North and South - and two openings like the world's two openings - an upper one and a lower one. A man found worthy upon his death is lead through the upper opening into the Garden of Eden. If, however, he is unworthy, he passes through the bottom opening into Gehenom. For this reason the upper opening is wider than the lower one, for the Talmud tells us that Eden is but one sixtieth of Gehenom. As it is written, "Therefore She'ol has enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure" (Isaiah 5:14).

Something else: Heh is open all around because everything in this world is open to changes. Even if a man grows rich and respectable he should never elevate himself above others. Let him remember that his fortune can be overturned, and that God despises pride.

As it is written, "All the proud in heart are an abomination to God." (Proverbs 16:5).

And God humbles the mighty and elevates the meek, as it is written, "God is the judge, He humbles one, and elevates another." (Psalms 75:8). Or, as another verse states, "Though he raises himself to the heavens, and his head reaches the clouds, yet he shall perish forever like his own dung. They who have seen him shall say, 'Where is he?'" (Job 20:6-7).


Vav is comprised of two sticks, one above the other, in the form of steps leading up to a high mountain. For on Vav - the sixth day - of the month of Sivan, just before giving the Torah to Israel, God suspended Mount Sinai over them like an overturned basin. A voice called down from heaven, saying, "If you, O people of Israel, should choose to accept the Torah all is well; if not, however, here will be your grave." God reasoned, saying, "If you do not accept the Torah here today, on Vav - six - Sivan, the world which I created in Vav - six - days will have been for naught. Did I not create the world only for the sake of the Torah?"

Something else: Vav has four, broadly spaced, points because the Torah which was given on Vav - six - Sivan is many times vaster than the world, despite the world's four broadly spaced points: North, South, East and West. As it is written, "Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea" (Job 11:9).


Zayin is shaped like a fetus in a woman's belly. Just as the fetus eats what its mother eats and drinks what its mother drinks so God Zan - feeds - the whole world. All creatures God sustains, from the greatest horned buffalo to the tiniest lice nit. He especially provides for the less fortunate creatures. Because the dog's meals are few, God keeps food in its bowels for three days. Because the mother raven is too cruel to feed her young, God allows the chicks to feed from their own excrement.

Something else: Zayin's top three points surround its fourth point like a man meZuyan - bearing arms. One who diligently studies the Torah which was given on Vav - the sixth - day of Sivan, will be granted the protection of Zayin - a weapon - against all evils. As it is written, "The high praises of God are in their mouths and two-edged swords are in their hands" (Psalms 149:6).


Chet is surrounded by walls.

The wellsprings of Chasidut - piety - are humility and silence. That is why the Chasid - the pious one - shall forever be persecuted, in order to never persecute; forever be humiliated, never to humiliate. Just as this letter is shut tight, so shall the Chasid keep his mouth shut even when he hears himself being slandered. Just as this letter is shut within itself, so shall the Chasid be a tent dweller, like Jacob who shut himself within the house of study. He stays away from the ways of Esau who burst forth to the world outdoors. A man who is worthy of being a tent dweller is called a Chasid. If however, he is unworthy of this, and instead he follows the temptations placed before his eyes he is called Chatzuf - brazen; only repentance can save him.


Tet is a shaped like a jagged wall. At the end of the days, when God presides in judgment, the nations of the world will pass before Him, and He will say to them, "What have you done in this world?" To which they will reply, "We have conquered many cities, we have erected many bridges, we have built many bath-houses, and everything we have done only for Israe's Tova - for their sake - so that they might occupy themselves with the Torah!" And God will retort, "You utter fools! All you have done, you have done for your own benefit alone!" Whereupon, God will swiftly seal their fates, and He will bless Israel with Tov - with Goodness.
Something else: Tet forms two Tet-shaped angles above, and three such angles below. A man's Chasidut (Chet) - humility - is immediately followed by Tov (Tet) - Goodness - his reward. Even his own oppressors will end up rewarding him with goodness. This is why the Talmud says: "It is Tov - good - for a man to hear himself being mocked and then to ignore it, for a hundred ails pass him by. As it is written, 'The beginning of strife is like letting out water.'" (Proverbs 17:14).


Yod is little and shaped like a bench. For anyone who belittles himself in this world merits to sit on a great golden throne in the world to come. He will sit there along with King David and our Father Jacob who also belittled themselves in this world. As it is said, "She dressed her little son Jacob" (Genesis 27:16). "And David was the little one" (Samuel I 17:14). Jacob was rewarded with a part of the throne of glory; David merited his throne to be set before the throne of glory, "And his throne shall be like the sun before me" (Psalms 89:37). The Moon too, when the universe was created, made herself smaller than the sun. "Because you have made yourself small," God said unto her, "I will name future righteous men after you: Little Jacob and Little David."

God Himself chose Yod from all the other letters to begin His Holy Name because she is the smallest.


Kaf stands erect and wears a crown upon its head like a king.

Not one soul of the Kaf - twenty - generations which elapsed between Noah and Abraham praised their Creator or even acknowledged Him until Abraham came and sanctified God. For this reason Abraham was rewarded with the Mitzvah of circumcision, and the secrets of creation were revealed to him.

Something else: Kaf's head strives heavenwards. In the realm of earthly jurisdiction, a man becomes punishable at the age of thirteen, therefore if he sins, he is flogged three sets of thirteen lashes. In the realm of heavenly jurisdiction, however, a man becomes punishable only at the age of Kaf - twenty - but, if he sins he is punished with three sets of twenty lashes. According to the Talmud, Metatron himself was once punished with sixty, that is, three sets of twenty, fiery lashes.


Lamed is shaped like a royal crown. He who is a Lamed - one who studies - the Torah and conquers his sinful desires will be granted a place in paradise, where he will sit with a crown upon his head. Likewise Joseph, by conquering his desire, received kingship and the crown. "And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh" (Genesis 41:46). He was thirty just as the numerical value of Lamed is thirty. For this reason Lamed stands between Caph and Mem, for when read backwards these three letters spell out Melech - king. This kingly letter is also the tallest letter, much as Saul, the king of Israel, was "From his shoulders and upwards taller than any of the people" (Samuel I, 9:2). So that is why it is shaped like a crown.


Mem has the shape of an empty womb because after conception a woman's womb is empty. Only Mem - forty - days later does the fetus begin to assume its shape.
Something else: Mem has the shape of an empty stomach because throughout the Mem - forty - days Moses was in Heaven accepting the Torah, his stomach contained neither food nor drink.

Something else: Why is Mem shaped like a pool? Because a Mikvah is fit for ritual immersion only in a pool which holds Mem - forty - seahs. Even so little as one kortov short of forty seahs disqualifies it.

Something else: Mem has the shape of an empty stomach because one should wait the time it takes to walk one Mile between eating meat and milk.


Nun is shaped like a shield. "Let not the mighty man glory in his might" (Jeremiah 9:22). Rather let him place his trust in God who is Norah - awesome - and terrible.
Something else: Nun is a shield with three points - two above and one below. King David owned an invincible shield inscribed with God's Holy Name; each word of the Name was comprised of three letters. Inscribed on the shield was the verse "Who is like You, O God, among the gods?" (Exodus 15:11), which forms the acronym MaCaBI. And the last inheritor of this shield was Judah the Macabi.

Something else: Nun has two points above and one point below. The two points above are the two pious men whom God protected: Our Father Abraham and King David. Abraham, as it is written: "I am your shield" (Genesis 15:1). David, as it is written: "My shield and the horn of my salvation." (Psalms 18:3).

The point below is Israel who, while praying to God for protection, invoke the merit of these two pious men: "Blessed are you, O God, shield of Abraham," and "Blessed are you, O God, shield of David."


God Samech - upholds - all those who fall. For God upholds Israel in their afflictions. Therefore Samech is shaped like an evergreen tree which spreads out its branches.

Something else: Why does this Samech stand upright, and yet it is pierced by an arrow? Because when Israel left Egypt, Pharaoh chased after them and caught them at the shores of Yam Suf - the Red Sea. Pharaoh began to shoot arrows at Israel, yet all the arrows were absorbed by the clouds, those clouds which protected Israel Saviv Saviv - all around. And that is why the shape of this Samech is round.


'Ayin is made of two rods, one above the other. When Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh to perform God's miracles, the Egyptian sorcerers, by their own sleight of hand, were able to deceive the 'Ayin - the eye. Yet God's wonders prevailed over Egyptian sorcery and Aaron's rod swallowed up the sorcerers' rods. That is why Nun, Samech, 'Ayin form a series: Nes - the miracle - cancelled the deception of the 'Ayin, the eye.

Something else: 'Ayin is made of two rods. The Egyptians subjected our forefathers to 'Avodah kasha - slave labor. When Israel did not produce their daily sum of bricks, Israel's officers were beaten with rods.


Pe is shaped like a pail and it has three points. When Israel wandered in the wilderness God Pirnes - provided - them with three miraculous means of sustenance: Manna, quails, and the well. Pe is therefore shaped like an open pail, ready to accept God's gifts which He pours down from heaven.

Something else: Pe is shaped like a well. When a true scholar sets out to interpret the Torah the holy spirit descends upon him. He has only to open his Pe - his mouth - and thereupon he becomes a spring, a well, surging forth words of Torah. For a certain angel provides him with countless insights.


Tzadik is a fortress approached only through the Petach - entrance - at its side. The Tzadik - the righteous one - is constantly entering, going from Petach to Petach. He leaves the synagogue only to enter the house of study; he leaves the house of study and enters the synagogue. As it is written, "They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Tziyon - Zion" (Psalms 84:8).
Something else: Tzadik is a semicircle. For the Sanhedrin, the High Jewish Court guided only by Tzedek - justice - sat in a semicircle.


Kuf is shaped like a tree. When Abraham bound his son Isaac who was born to him at the age of Kuf - one hundred - years, Heaven took pity on him and Abraham sacrificed a ram caught by its horns in the thicket, the tree. Kuf's bottom part is shaped like a shofar. That is why when we blow the shofar, its Kol - its sound - travels upward. Kuf's top has two points, corresponding to the two days of Rosh Hashana when the Shofar is blown.


Resh is shaped like a boat with a mast. Why? Because during summertime Rahav, the angel of the sea, will often emit an awful stench which settles in the boats and kills its passengers. But if the glorious name 'Adiriron' is invoked, the stench immediately disappears. Also in wintertime when tempests are common, invoke this name and calm the storm.

Something else: Resh is comprised of a small line riding on a large one. For in the days to come small Jacob will trample the mighty but Rasha - evil - Esau.


Shin is shaped like a deep well, overflowing with water. When King David dug Shitin - pits - beneath the altar, the waters of the Deep arose and threatened to flood the world. Only after David wrote the Shem - the Holy Name - and cast it into the pit did the waters subside.

Something else: Shin has five points. Because the outside of our T'fillin is marked with a Shin which stands for God's name Shadai. The Shin's five points are the T'fillin's five compartments: four in the T'fillah worn on the head, and one in the T'fillah worn on the arm.


The last letter of the Torah's alphabet is Tav. Tav has three upright poles. After reading from the Torah scroll, the cantor winds the scroll by its two poles, and wraps it in its mantle. The three poles of the Tav are the cantor and the two poles of the Torah on either side. The pole running across the three is the mantle which covers the scroll.

Something else: Tav has three poles and eight points. Because the Torah is threefold: The Torah, The Prophets, and The Writings. And there are eight books of The Prophets.

God signs the last letter of his own name Emet - Truth - with a Tav, and Israel seals the covenant into their flesh after eight days.

* * *

I have completed the twenty-two letters of Metatron, Angel of the Presence and Heavenly Scribe, according to the tradition passed down to us from the Sages of Israel. They are twenty-two individual letters, none repeat themselves.

Read more!