Friday, August 9, 2013

Esoteric Qabalistic Considerations: The Shattering and the Abyss

The shell we know best is ourselves, trapped in the seas of restriction.

In the first version of the Tree of Life, according to Issac Luria, the Ten Sephiroth were weak vessels intermixing with each other. Each containing the same omnipresent light. Ill-defined, they shattered ( the Shevirah) casting their fragments and shards of light beneath them.

The Tree was restored (Tikun, Rectification) into five strong vessels (the Partzufim or "personas") which are depicted in the image above. The three unshattered Supernals each formed one Partzuf: Kether, the Long Face; Chokmah, The Father; and Binah, The Mother. The middle Partzuf consisted of the fragments of the shattered lower six Sephiroth and was called the Small Face. The partially shattered Malkuth formed the final Partzuf of the Daughter.

The reconstitution of the Tree following the shattering of the vessels also formed the Abyss, dividing the unbroken Supernals from the tatters below. Along with this reformulation were born as well the four worlds or levels of reality (Aztiluth, Briah, Yetzirah, Assiah or Emanation, Creation, FormAtion and Action) and the different souls (whether four, five, six or seven depending on your view) of humanity. Like a shattered mirror, reality reflects reality, downward and upward.

This original doctrine is ambiguous precisely in the same way that the shattering of the vessels (Shevirat HaKelim), the central motif of Lurianic Qabalah, is ambiguous. Was the shattering a failure of the first creation? Was it an intended stage in the process? Then why the cataclysmic imagery? 

This ambiguity gets reflected down into an uncertainty concerning the nature of the Tikun or restoration of the shells. They are seen as chaotic, ill defined. Their salvation consists in structure and order. But this mean bringing them into the restored, not the original, Tree. To which Tree do we aspire? That of strong vessels with firm delineations, the realm of severe judgment, or that earlier Tree of weak vessels and free light?

The answer must surely be the second. Each step down the Tree, and down the staircase of the worlds, is a step into greater restriction. In moving up the Tree we restore freedom and dissolve restriction. This is even easier to see in the progression of the souls of humanity. From body, to instinct, to reason, to higher spiritual insight, to the union of human and divine will and beyond each step is a breaking of chains not a forging of them.

But what of the Abyss, so often depicted as the realm of empty meaning, chaotic disordered becoming, dust devils without true substance? 


In the Wind of the mind arises the turbulence called I.
It breaks; down shower the barren thoughts.
All life is choked.

This desert is the Abyss wherein is the Universe.
The Stars are but thistles in that waste.
Yet this desert is but one spot accursed in a world of bliss.

Now and again Travellers cross the desert;
they come from the Great Sea, and to the Great Sea they go.
And as they go they spill water; one day they will irrigate the desert, till it flower..."

Aleister Crowley, The Book of Lies

The Abyss is truly the entire tree beneath the Supernals. Only at it's highest point, where the light from above illuminates it's essence, can we see the Abyss in and as Da'ath: the false Sephiroth of knowledge. This is not a chaotic lack of form, but a tyrannical obsession with structure and form that screams distinctly governing it's own precise definition. The denizens of the Abyss can speak forever about what, precisely and surely, they are. Dust devils insisting on firm boundaries, all. The knowingness that can always name each thing along with it's abilities and limits. The impossible rests beyond the Abyss, for the Abyss is all and everything that is merely, and clearly, possible.

Stalk thyself, thou hidden flame of impossibility, and cast off the daily definitions by which you maintain the severe judgment which is your life.

"Each 'Star' is connected directly with every other star, and the Space being Without Limit (Ain Soph) the Body of Nuith, any one star is as much the Centre as any other. Each man instinctively feels that he is the Centre of the Cosmos, and philosophers have jeered at his presumption. But it was he that was precisely right. The yokel is no more 'petty' than the King, nor the earth than the Sun. Each simple elemental Self is supreme, Very God of Very God. Ay, in this Book is Truth almost insufferably splendid, for Man has veiled himself too long from his own glory: he fears the abyss, the ageless Absolute. But Truth shall make him free!" Aleister Crowley, From the Commentaries to Liber Al vel Legis

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