Thursday, May 24, 2012


My mind has been a jumble of words lately. “Mere” words? I’ve heard the expression, “action, not words”. We all know about empty rhetoric. But just as seemingly innocuous symbols can be powerful under certain circumstances, words also have power. Words, after all, are a type of symbol themselves—they are our means of communicating our experience of the world, and to some extent define what we think of reality.

Of course, words have limitations. Some experiences cannot be described in words. Poetry is the closest approximation that we can have in words of such experiences. Magic was an art of meaningfully crafted words, but it is one that modern society doesn’t place any stock in. Similarly, oaths and promises made verbally are no good—they must be reinforced on paper. People don’t take the “word” of others very seriously. But just as certain symbols can activate the unconscious, words still have an effect, even if it’s not explicit.

I was discussing Jewish customs with someone, and one thing discussed was the strict adherence to Torah followed by Orthodox Jews. From the point of view of Kabbalah, there is a very important reason for this. There is a Kabbalistic text called Sefer Yetzirah, or “The Book of Formation”. It’s about what it sounds like—the formation of the universe. And what is used to build the universe? The letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in mathematically meaningful patterns, particularly variations of the name YHVH (or IHVH).

From the Sefer Yetzirah (Hermetic Library version) :

He fixed the twenty-two Letters of foundation on the sphere like a wall with 231 gates, and turned the spheres forward and backward. For an illustration may serve the three letters, Gemel, Nun, Ayin. There is nothing better than joy {spelled Ayin-Nun-Gemel in Hebrew} and nothing worse than sorrow or plague {spelled Nun-Gemel-Ayin, in Hebrew}.

But how was it done? He combined, weighed and exchanged: the Aleph with all the other letters in succession, and all the others again with Aleph; Bet with all, and all again with Bet; and so the whole series of Letters {was paired off in very possible way}. Hence it follows that there are 231 formations, and that every creature and every word emanated from one name.

This is in an incredibly complex system, and I will not be able to simplify it here. But if one is familiar with Gematria or Notarikon, one knows that the letters also have numerical values, and the total numerical value of a word can be used to reveal hidden meanings of the word.  A good example from Peter Bull’s gematria site:

Gematria works on the premise that the letters of the alphabet can also be used as numbers, and therefore words and phrases acquire distinctive numerical values. A well known example is that of God, whose name spelt in Hebrew, is IHVH (). The values of these four letters are 10 - 5 - 6 - 5, thus the 'number of His name' is 26. It follows from this, by means of numerical equivalence, that God is identifiable with AHBH and AChD - Love and Unity - because the letter values of these two words sum as 1 + 5 + 2 + 5 and 1 + 8 + 4 = 26.

The Torah as a sacred text is not important simply because it is the “word of God”, but the letters themselves and their word combinations have very deep and important meaning. And thus, if one is an observant Jew, one must not change a letter of the Torah, and must uphold it, because to not uphold it is to threaten the structure of the universe. Magicians who work with Kabbalah work with the letters and their numberings to not only gain secret knowledge, but also to create in their own right.

But the West is not the only civilization that is centered on the alphabet. In the East, the 14 sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet are given by Lord Shiva, who beats them out on his damaru (drum) at the end of his Tandav (cosmic dance of creation and destruction—embodied in the image of Shiva Nataraj).  The 14 basic sounds make up the Maheswara Sutras: “ aiyn rilrk eon aiuc hayavarat lan namanananam jhaban ghadadash jabagadadash khaphachaṭhathacaṭatav kapay sasasr hul “

In addition, the Goddess Kali wears a necklace of skulls or severed heads, each one representing a vibration of a letter of the Sanskrit alphabet. The severed heads represent the destruction of the Ego (as the heads are of demons of the ego such as anger, desire, passion, etc.). Kali herself is beyond Time and Space (“Kala means time, and Kali devours it”), and represents the rawest form of consciousness. The symbol is full of meaning, as the Ego is necessary to life in the world in spite of the limitations created by its “demons”, just as words are necessary even though they are also limited in their means of expressing the ultimate Mystery. Kali slays the demons when the balance of “too much and too little” is upset—the demons should be in balance with the devas (gods, or godly qualities) of the ego, but when the demons take over, Kali appears and destroys them and brings clarity to the soul, getting rid of all temporal distractions. The fact that the heads also represent grammar sounds symbolizes  the loss of speech when one experiences this kind of clarity (among other things).

Finally, there are the sounds of mantras, usually referred to as bijas (seeds)—sounds like aum aim hrim klim krim srim, hum, etc. The vibrations of these sounds are associated with different qualities. Aum is the vibrational sound of the unity of the universe, hence its frequent use in meditation. When chanted properly, these mantras are capable of changing consciousness. This is true both in terms of belief and scientific finding; several studies have been done that demonstrate changes to the brain function as a result of regular meditation.

So, next time you speak, think about the mythical weight and foundation of your words. They have more impact than you might think. Choose them wisely.

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