A Consideration of Kabbalah/Qabalah Texts, Part 1

by L. Ron Gardner

This three-part article consists of my eighteen Amazon.com reviews of Kabbalah/Qabalah texts. The reviews are in reverse chronological order, with the latest reviews first.

Informationally Interesting, Exegetically Flawed
[“The Hermetic Kabbalah,” Colin Low, 3 Stars]

Colin A. Low, author of the “The Hermetic Kabbalah,” is a serious scholar who has devoted decades of his life to studying Kabbalah (both the Jewish and the non-Jewish, or occult and New Age, traditions). Moreover, he is an excellent writer who seamlessly and agreeably communicates his knowledge and insights. But, unfortunately, this does not translate into an impressive explication of the Kabbalah.

Don’t get me wrong: Low provides plenty of interesting and worthwhile information in this text. But this is overshadowed by his failure to grok and proficiently elaborate the Kabbalah. And this failure pertains to both the mystical-ecstatical and the theosophical-occult Kabbalahs.

Regarding the mystical-ecstatical Kabbalah, the “higher” Kabbalah, he has virtually nothing to say. Clearly, he is an un-Initiated mystic, hence the via mystica lies beyond his apprehension and comprehension. He doesn’t broach the subject of the Ruach HoKodesh, or Holy Spirit, in the Kabblistic project. By contrast, Moshe Idel, in his fine text “Kabbalah New Perspectives,” focuses considerable attention on the divine efflux downward.

Most tellingly, in the chapter titled Awakening, Low effectually reduces true Kabbalistic spirituality (relating to and receiving the Supernal Influx) to a reductive theurgical operation. He writes:

“I have spent decades summoning spirits from the vastly deep, for the most part using the ancient model of Iamblicus, Ficino, and Agrippa, that of sympathy – sunathemata. As outlined in Theurgy on page 129, the ritualist uses perfumes, sounds, symbols, music, gestures, plants and objects that are connected through innate occult sympathy with a specific cosmic power, usually anthropomorphised as a spirit.”

Unfortunately, Low’s exegetical deficiencies are not limited to the mystical Kabbalah, but also infect his discourse on the theosophical and occult Kabbalahs.
His descriptions of the Tree of Life and Sefirot are askew (which isn’t surprising given the sources he cites), and, dismayingly, he all but ignores astrology and tarot, without which the “code” of the occult Kabbalah cannot be cracked.

Ordinarily, I would give a book as flawed as this one no more than two stars, but given that it is a well written and contains worthwhile general, historical, and explanatory information, I have decided to give it three.

The late Dr. David Sheinkin (1939-1982), a psychiatrist who tragically perished in a plane crash along with four other members of his family, is respected as an astute Kabbalist by many. I’m not one of the many.

Path of a Klueless Kabbalist
[“Path of the Kabbalah,” Dr. David Sheinkin, 1 Star]

Sheinkin studied Kabbalah under the renowned Kabbalist/Physicist Aryeh Kaplan (1934-1983), but that means nothing to me, because Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan never “cracked the cosmic code,” never figured out what the Kabbalah is really about (see my two-star review of his “Sefer Yetzirah”).

Sheinkin is just as clueless regarding Eastern mysticism as he is Kabbalistic teachings. Stumping for Kabbalistic mysticism, he writes, “There is simply no way to adopt an Eastern path and live successfully in an environment like New York or Los Angeles.” The spiritual cognoscenti laugh at such self-serving nonsense.

Sheinkin writes, “Kabbalah represents the secret mystical part of Judaism… Kabbalah means to receive.” But Sheinkin never says what one receives, which is the Holy Spirit, the Ruach Hokodesh. True Kabbalists understand that the epitome of Kabbalah is receiving the Holy Spirit/Ruach Hokodesh, which en-Light-ens one. But Sheinkin never mentions this en-Light-ening Spirit Power; hence his teachings do not qualify as truly spiritual, or mystical.

Sheinkin, referring to the Old Testament, states that “the Bible can be seen as the owner’s manual to the cosmos.” Anyone who believes this is living in the dark ages, unless they think stoning someone to death for working on the Sabbath makes sense.

Sheinkin tells us that Kabbalistic word for God is Ain Sof, which means “without end.” But “Ain Sof” is not mentioned in the Bible, which doesn’t say much for the so-called “owner’s manual to the universe.”

Sheinkin writes, “According to Kabbalistic traditions, only seven sefiroth are accessible to humans; three are inaccessible.” This begs the question: if the three (Binah, Chokmah, and Kether) are inaccebile to humans, how can Kabbalists, who are humans, speak of and describe them?

Sheinkin informs us that “there are at least five universes that intervene between Ain Sof and the world.” No there aren’t. There is only one universe, which encompasses the totality of existents. There are different dimensions within the universe, but that doesn’t qualify them as separate universes.

Sheinkin insists that “science and religion cannot possibly contradict one another.” Where does science speak of, or provide evidence for, these universes, not to mention other Kabbalistic teachings? When Sheinkin says “there can be no contradiction between the Bible and science,” one can only laugh.

Sheinkin writes,” We — in a universe filled with names -- are at the bottom of this five-step process of creation. If we wish to come closer to God, then we must work our way up the five-step ladder to Him.” Unbeknownst to Sheinkin, names are a human creation (to identify existents), and cannot be found in the universe except in man’s head.

Sheinkin writes, “To effect a communication system between God and man, Ain Sof or God created a set of ten forces – Sefiroth – that went on to create the universe.” This is farcical. The Sefiroth don’t pertain to the universe, they pertain to our solar system, with each Sefirah correlating with a planet.

Sheinkin’s book has a chapter entitled “The Way of a Mystic,” which has nothing to say about Divine Communion, the true Way of a mystic. Instead, it reduces the Kabbalistic path to laws and rituals pertaining to the Torah. Sheinkin writes, “In contrast to the Noahide Laws stands the Kabbalistic path. It is very complex with many more laws and many more rituals. Within its general framework are two conduits to spirituality: obeying God and emulating God. The obeying of God essentially means observing the laws and dictates of the spiritual handbook known as the Torah.”

Sheinkin does provide a short chapter on meditation at the end of the book, but all the practices are vey basic. And when he writes, “The mem sound is connected to the divine Realm of Chokmah, you can reach the state of Chokmah through this meditation”, he again contradicts himself, because he earlier states that this Sefirah (along with two others) is not accessible to humans.

Sheinkin hits rock bottom when he argues that circumcision (which I consider genital mutilation) is a spiritual operation. He writes: “The whole issue of circumcision involves a returning of humanity to the pre-sin state of existence. In the process of evolution, human beings had developed a foreskin and a hymen for the two sexes. Apparently, Adam and Eve were originally created without these tissues; God fashioned them only after they sinned.”

In contrast to many Enlightened mystics, Sheinkin believes that “God and man are worlds apart.” What is really worlds apart are Sheinkin’s text and good books on mysticism.

I rejoined Kindle Unlimited, and because this text was available for free, I decided to give it a read. I’ve read numerous Kabbalah and Qabalah texts, and like most of them, this one fails to impress. The giveaway that it would disappoint came early in the book, when the author, Dr. Paul A. Clark, lauded the Kabbalah/Qabalah writings of Aryeh Kaplan, Dion Fortune, and Paul Foster Case. I’ve read (and reviewed at Amazon) books by each of these iconic authors, and I contend that none of them “cracked the cosmic code” and satisfactorily explicates a hermetic Kabbalah/Qabalah.

A Krummy Qabalah Text
[“The Hermetic Qabalah,” Dr. Paul A. Clark, Two Stars]

Dr. Clark studied Qabalah at Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.), Paul Foster Case’s Western Mystery school before establishing his own occult order. And as other reviewers have pointed out, this text very much regurgitates Case’s Qabalah teachings.

I could write pages on my disagreements with Dr. Clark, but I’ll just focus on a few of them. First off, Dr. Clark devotes numerous chapters elaborating many of the supposed 32 Paths of the Qabalah. I have little regard for the Sephir Yetzirah, the oldest written (and most revered) extant Qabalah text (see my two-star review of Aryeh Kaplan’s translation/commentary), which identifies these paths – and I reject these paths as having any reality.

Pontificating Puffery, Mystical Mumbo Jumbo
[“The Awakening Ground: A Guide to Contemplative Mysticism,” David Chaim Smith]

If you’re looking for a pseudo-profound spiritual text flush with florid flotsam, then this word-salad work could be right up your alley.

The author of this text, steeped in Dowman-ized Dzogchen drivel and Kabbalah krappola, seeks to combine the two “Dharmas” into a mystical whole, and the resulting mishmash is, in a word, a Disaster.

This text, teeming with vacuous abstractions and head-shaking sentences, epitomizes pretentious prose. If Bon Jovi were to sing about it, the words would go: “You gave mysticism a bad name.”

Here’s an example of the text’s writing:

“Contemplation mitigates its disruptions by returning them to the open continuum in which they arise. Immersing the maze of fixations within the continuous stream of pure possibility can liberate claustrophobic habits on contact. This releases billowing fields of poetic resonance that saturate the four corners of space, introducing the potential for a particularly vivid style of contemplation that works with the self-ornamenting openness of infinity. Pure poetic sensations shimmer beyond grasp, and cannot be reduced to either personal or impersonal terms. Within their shimmering an invitation into the essential nature of all phenomena opens through the sparkle of their ethereal fluttering.”

Contradictions abound in the text. For example, the author writes, “There is no such thing as space itself.” Then elsewhere he writes, “The wisdom of space is that its absolute nature is always inherent in its relative display.” If there is no such thing as space, how can it have wisdom and an absolute nature?

The author’s Kabbalistic descriptions are so far from reality, it boggles the mind. For example, regarding the sephirah Binah, he writes, “The expanse of Binah, which is the basic space of all phenomena, is replete with the luminous crystalline dew of shefa.” Binah, which correlates with the limiting and binding planet Saturn, has nothing whatsoever to do with the “basic space of all phenomena,” which is the Dzogchen definition of the Dharmadhatu, the Dharmakaya (timeless Awareness) as the spaceless, unborn, illimitable Context in which phenomena arise and pass away.

The author writes, “There is nothing in mind but responsiveness.” Au contraire, I say, for there is also mucho hokum to be found in the author’s mind. So much so that, as I see it, one star is one too many for this text.

Secondly, I do not at all resonate with Dr. Clark’s attributions. For example, he states that “Chokmah astrolologically correspond to the Zodiac.” This is nonsense. It corresponds to Uranus, and the Tarot card the Tower, which Dr. Clark erroneously assigns to Geburah.

Dr. Clark writes: “Chokmah as the Cosmic Father can only be defined in relationship to Binah, the Divine Mother. Until impregnation of the womb has occurred, there is no Father. It is a role defined not by quality, but by function. The same is true for Binah. Herein is the mystery of the sacred trinity. Each part manifests separately but is, in fact, one unity. There is one!”

I say this is balderdash. I say that the Trinity is reflected in, or through, Kether, Da’ath and Tiphareth.

Dr. Clark, laughably, calls Kundalini “the Saturn Force.” He writes, “The planet Saturn is associated with what in the Eastern Tradition is called Kundalini or Serpent Fire.” This is a nonsensical association. Kundalini is associated with Pluto/Scorpio, not with Saturn/Capricorn.

I could go on and on elaborating my differences with Dr. Clark, but I’m sure you get the picture by now. In sum, this is not Qabalah book that I recommend.

Philosophic Peregrinations of the Ignoranti
[“Kabbalah, Hermeticism, and M-theory,” Michael Faust, 2 Stars]

First off, this book is badly mistitled, because just a few of its pages pertain to the subjects of Kabbalah, Hermeticism, and M-theory. Moreover, the author does a shameful job elaborating Kabbalah and Hermeticism.

For example, in his disparaging description of Kabbalah, he never mentions the Tree of Life or the Sephirot. And he fails to explain what Kabbalah really means – receiving (and uniting with) the Divine. Worst of all is his statement about Judaism, which also, by implication, pertains to Kabbalah. The author writes, “Even the “prettiest” version of Judaism is repulsive, completely infected with devil worship.”

The author’s exegesis of Hermeticism (which he considers only “a slightly different version of [his religion] Pythagorean Illuminism”) is no better than his description of Kabbalah. Hermeticism consists of the three parts/practices – astrology, theurgy, and alchemy – and the author has nothing to say about the first two. Regarding alchemy, he writes, “Alchemy is the science of Hermeticism and the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, the Panacea and the Elixir of Life. He has nothing to say about the Panacea or the Elixir of Life, and though he describes the Philosopher’s Stone as “symbolizing God” and “where we enter into unity with the divine,” he has nothing to say about how one can attain this divine unity. The author despises Ayn Rand, so I will borrow a favorite expression of hers to summarize the author’s repeated failure to say something about the topics he portends to discourse on: Blank out.

The author writes: “It is our destiny to enter into communion with that supreme consciousness. [But again, he has nothing to say regarding the practice of this communion]. We will know the mind of God. We will know all things. We will literally become God.This is the Grand Unified Theory of Everything, this is the gospel of the Illuminati.”

Unbeknownst to the author, the mystical essence of Judaism and Christianity is all about the practice of Divine (or Holy) Communion (which he identifies as the summum bonum of life), but he ignorantly dismisses these religions in toto, in effect throwing the baby out with the bath water. The Illuminati’s religion (Illuminism), he writes,”rejects the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, considering these the work of the Demiurge.” If the author studied Christian Hermeticism, he might realize that his rejection of esoteric Christianity is ill-advised.

At the beginning of the book, the author writes, “All the mysteries of the universe can be reduced to a single mathematical question: do the numbers zero and infinity exist as realities rather than mental abstractions?”

It is reductio ad absurdum to reduce the mysteries of the universe to this single question. On top of this, the author insists that the illuminati have discovered the definitive cosmic equation. The author writes, “Illuminism introduces the r>=0 “cosmic equation revealing the link between the dimemensional and the dimensionless, the physical cosmos and the mental cosmos.”

Unbeknownst to the Illuminati, the most important equation regarding “cracking the cosmic code” and attaining Divine Union is Ohm’s Law, which, properly applied, yields the Philosopher’s Stone by fostering conduction of the Divine Elixir (the Christian Holy Spirit, the Buddhist Sambhogakaya, the Hebrew Ruach haKodesh, and Hindu Shakti) into the Sacred Heart-center (or Heart-cave) which is the true Holy Grail, or Chalice.

I could go on and on deconstructing the disjointed philosophic ramblings of the author in this book, which is really just a protracted sales pitch for Pythagorean Illuminism presented under the guise of a misleading book title. But at this point I’ll conclude my review by summarizing the reaction of the Cognoscenti to the exoteric, hubris-bloated philosophic pontifications of the author (which includes the laughable assertion, “Only the Illuminati have ever understood the true structure of the cosmos”). The Cognoscenti say that book is nothing more than the philosophic peregrinations of the Ignoranti.

A Flawed Gem
[“The Elements of the Qabalah,” Will Parfitt, Four Stars]

I’ve read numerous Kabbalah/Qabalah books (peruse my 252 Amazon reviews and you’ll find my many reviews of them), and until I encountered Will Parfitt’s book I had not encountered a Qabalah book I liked. Parfitt’s text remedies that and serves to complement the single outstanding Kabbalah book I’ve found: Moshe Idel’s “Kabbalah: New Perspectives.” Serious students of mysticism should familiarize themselves with both the original Kabbalah and its Westerm Mystery Tradition spinoff, the Qabalah, and these two books will do the job.

Parfitt recommends other Qabalah texts I’ve read, such as Dion Fortune’s “Mystical Qabalah” (see my one-star review) and Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi’s “The Work of the Kabbalist” (see my two-star review), but none of these are as good as Parfitt’s book. Parfitt’s text stands out because of its comprehensiveness: He covers all the Qabalahs – the “oral,” the “written,” the“literal,” the “symbolic,” and the “practical” and he does so clearly and engagingly, making this an enjoyable as well as educational read.

In ten chapters (What is Qabalah? History and Relevance, Spheres and Paths, Creation and the Sacred Alphabet, Different Worlds, The Whole Person, Ways of Action, Ways of Stillness, Qabalistic Healing, and The Heart of the Tree), Parfitt provides a complete mini-course on Qabalah, shedding theorerical and practical light on all the important aspects of this tradition.

Why do I label this book a “flawed gem” in my title? Because, even though it is a comprehensive primer on the Qabalah, I am in major disagreement with much of its material. When I write my Qabalah book – probably five years down the road – I will instruct my students to read this text and compare my vision and explication of the Qabalah with Parfitt’s.

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