Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nephi and the Kabbalistic “Four Worlds” of Human Consciousness

In the opening verses of the Book of Mormon, Nephi gives an intriguing four-fold reference:

1. I make a record of my proceedings in my days
2. I make a record in the language of my father
3. I make it with mine own hand
4. I make it according to my knowledge

These descriptions of Nephi’s record are reminiscent of the Kabbalistic “Four Worlds,” exhibited in Isaiah 43:7, "Every one that is called by My name and for My glory (atziluth "emanation/nearness"), I have created (beriah "creation"), I have formed (yetzirah "formation"), even I have made (asiyah "action"). This describes the creative power of God, which descends through the four Kabbalistic worlds. As well as the functional role each World has in the process of Creation, they also embody dimensions of consciousness within human experience.

Let us compare each step in the process of creation in ascending order, the order it is found in Nephi. The lowest and final step in the Kabbalistic process of creation is temporal, concrete and specific. This realm is that of effects, the causes remaining hidden in the mind of God. It is associated with the Hebrew word asiyah, human action or endeavor in the manifest world. In Isaiah 43 it is translated “I have made.” Nephi has made a record of his proceedings, or the actions which have taken place in his days.

The next of the “Four Worlds” is that of formation. Using language, God “spoke” the world into existence. Nephi’s record was formulated in the language of his father, consisting of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. To the Kabbalists, the yetzirah world is half good and half evil. Likewise, the language Nephi uses is a dual one, the Jewish representing holiness and revelation, and the Egyptian representing worldliness. Hieroglyphics were understood to have been developed by Egyptian priests to conceal mysteries. The idea of concealing and revealing is conveyed in the language used to form Nephi’s record. Nephi’s engraving on gold plates emulates the yetziratic creation as well. In the fundamental Kabbalistic text Sefer Yetzirah, God not only speaks the universe into being, he engraves it, using the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew word for engrave is chakak. Derived from this root are words meaning “rule” and “decree.” Nephi’s record is a book of law, containing rules and decrees of God, which properly govern human behavior. They are written on plates of gold, symbolic of divine perfection.

The world of beriah can be described as God extending his hand through the veil in his first creative act. It is the disclosure of absolute Truth through revelation. Nephi claims that direct encounter, beginning with a testimony that it is “true,” and that he records it with his own hand. In Kabbalah, the hand alludes to God’s divine power and spirit. When Nephi says that he is writing with his hand, Kabbalists might understand it to mean he is writing with the Holy Spirit, by the gift and power of God.

Atziluth is the transcendent world of pure divinity, beyond word, speech, or form. When Nephi says that he is making the record according to his “knowledge,” this is gnostic, or secret knowledge, the hidden wisdom of God. It is the work of a Kabbalist to discover the innate holy nature of our earthly existence by entering into the pavilion of God’s hiding place at divine invitation.

Nephi’s placement of the four “I Make” statements in ascending order indicates celestial ascent. As initiates ascend the tree of life, they move from immanence to transcendence. This is the path of return. As Nephi wrote, he experienced the process, beginning by describing temporal events, progressing through recognizing truth and experiencing the Holy Ghost, and culminating in personal and intimate knowledge of the Divine. A reader of Nephi’s record is invited to participate in the same process of purification and renewing of the mind that Kabbalists aspire to, through their ascending stages of consciousness.

Nephi’s four-step composition further alludes to ascent patterns encountered later in the text. These specifically include Lehi’s ascent to the Throne of God and vision of the mystic rose (1 Ne. 1:8), as well as Nephi’s own ascent of the heavenly mountain (1 Ne. 11). The Book of Mormon is written to be plain and easily understood. But each word contains a holy mystery, making the account more complex and rich. Applying a Kabbalistic hermeneutic to 1 Nephi potentially broadens its theological implications.


LDS Anarchist said...

Have you also used Kabbalah with other parts of the Book of Mormon and found it to be helpful in your studies? I have never looked into it so I'm a bit of an ignoramus on this topic, but it sounds to me like you've done more than a cursory study of it.

Justin said...

The four-fold aspect of the Kabbalah Tree can relate to many gospel topics. Most obvious is the degrees of glory: no glory, telestial, terrestrial, and celestial.

Also, I see the Kabbalah as describing the Father [kether], the Son [tiphereth], and humanity [malkuth] -- along with the mediaries between those points.

Anonymous said...

I tried to describe the Kabbalah in a gospel-sense to Joanna before, I wrote to her:

The Kabbalah system of this “tree of life” comes from Jewish scholars in ancient Alexandria who found parchments in their library that described God’s creation in terms of ten spheres [numbers] and 22 connections [letters]. They could combine all the components of language [numbers and letters] into a single symbol that would provide a basis for an all-encompassing knowledge system.

The circles are the numbers, and the lines connecting them are the letters [22 letters in Hebrew]. It was not formulated to match the tarot cards, but it was later noticed that there are 22 major cards in the tarot deck and that they match the 22 paths on the tree of life.

So it's all as easy as ABC-123 – but it was designed as a way to map existence [both physical and non-physical] – using the planets as though they were physical locations on an actual map. But the map takes you through your mind using the planets as the symbols for what they represent. It was a way to try and grasp the concepts of the magic of creation – that by the manipulation of symbols we call “spelling” – a spell can be cast to bring to physical reality the airy-nothings from the right-brain-heart.

(10) Kingdom – as in the kingdom of God, or the universe that’s been physically manifested. This is the tip of the iceberg – the end-result of all the mental activity going on. This is both Earth as a place and as a state of mind – physical/material awareness [the coins, buttons, pentacles, plates, diamonds, etc.]
(9) Foundation – as in our spirituality is founded on the imagination. This is the Moon-lit realm of our dreams, fantasies, and memories. Material awareness ends here – we can’t take our coins with us, you know.
(8) Splendor – as in our language is what gives shape to the splendor of thought. This is the realm of left-brain language, math, intellect, science, logic – magic. It’s the realm that Mercury represents – or Odin, the god that Merlin or Gandalf were patterned after.
(7) Victory – as in, in love, our surrender is victory. This is the watery realm of human emotion – the attraction force that bonds all things [bonds of love and sharing] that Venus represents. Like swimming, you find that it is better to surrender to the water and current – rather than fight it or try to hold on to it.
(6) Beauty – as in the beauty of harmony and balance. It’s the beauty represented by the atonement of Jesus Christ – the point where God meets man, man’s highest point and God’s lowest. As the Sun, it’s the central axis all the planets [aspects of your personality] rotate around. The gold is all of us.
(5) Strength – as in the strength of universal will that moves the planets, the fire of our drive and passion. It’s fire, but it’s cold, like war – strategy, judgment, and discernment – Mars, the god of War, purging things of their impurities.
(4) Mercy – as in the mercy of the sheltering sky to nurture and protect. This is the parental love of the Father Gods in the sky, like Jupiter – that just allows things to be for a moment, without judging them.
(3) Understanding – as in the sexual euphemism of coming to an understanding with a spouse by “knowing” them. This is the cup that overflows energy into existence – the fertile soil that continually receives the seed. This realm represented by Saturn is the highest female principle – the form-giving power that can take the word and make it flesh.
(2) Wisdom – as in the wisdom to conceive of the idea of God by the initial utterance of the Word, “I”. It’s the sexual bang of male creative power – the fountain that eternally flows. Let there be light
(1) Crown – as in, “the Lord our God is one Lord”, or “there be gods many, and lords many … but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” – one crown. It is the sacred purity of just one – neither male-OR-female, this-OR-that – but just one.