Have you ever opened a book to see a mirror into the depths of your soul that you have never seen before? Have you ever turned a page like turning a corner to stop and realize that no matter where you are, wherever you are, you’ve finally found the place?
That was my experience when I finally read the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation.
When I was eleven or twelve or thirteen (I honestly no longer remember), I first learned about Kabbalah: mystical Judaism. At my synagogue’s gift shop, there was a deck of cards each featuring a letter of the Hebrew alphabet or one of the ten Sefirot of Kabbalah, and as I read through the accompanying book I discovered the paths of mystical Judaism and used the cards for meditation and at times divination. I have always been drawn to the spiritual, and Kabbalah was one way I found the spiritual within the religious.
This simple deck, however, was hardly a definitive text, and very much of what Kabbalah means I could not learn. Over the years since, I’ve read a couple books about Kabbalah, but never one of the primary texts: What I learned had been filtered through the lenses of scholars and publishers, secondary sources at best.
All the way, when I meditated upon the Kabbalah, I always envisioned the ten Sefirot inscribed upon my back: The Tree of Life filling my body, one with my soul.
And from that time, I wanted to imprint the Sefirot upon me, and I decided to study the Tree of Life more directly before pursuing it finally. So in 2017, I bought a copy of the Sefer Yetzirah, one of the three primary Kabbalistic texts and the one most directly related to the Sefirot. Multiple versions of the text were in this single book, and the primary version contained lengthy commentary to dive deeper into its meanings. I read the verses first, to gain a broad sense of the text, and then I began reading in depth.
Life distracted me, but the timing felt correct, and I between August and October, I got a tattoo representing the Sefirot on my back: vision become reality.
And although I dabbled in the text after that, largely I left it be. So this year began, and I decided it was time that I finally finish the text, of which I had read perhaps the first half of the first chapter of commentary. With every page, I became more absorbed into its philosophy, and as the meanings of the letters and ten emanations began to form in my mind, I began seeing their reflections in my daily life–and also in the truths I have formed within myself and within the stories I’ve been writing more than half my life.
Here’s where I began to see myself in the words: The Tree of Life is at once mystical and mathematical. It is an exploration in the topology of spaces and the permutation of counting collections. It is mystical and mechanical, diving deep into the gears of language, the letters and syntax of structuring words and relating them in families with similar roots. And it is the layering of these atop each other: connecting numbers with letters in an algebra of numerology that extends both concepts even further. It is thesis, and antithesis, and synthesis, in a single diagram.
As a mathematician / poet / storyteller, the parallels should already be apparent: If my interests were a philosophical text, they would be the Sefer Yetzirah, word for word.
It goes deeper. But to explain this, I’ll need to establish some context of what the Tree of Life represents.
The greatest part is the collection of ten spheres, the ten Sefirot, or holy emanations of God, representing concepts such as understanding and wisdom, loving-kindness and strength. Then there are the 22 letters, which can be divided into three groups: The three mothers, represented by the horizontal lines; the seven doubles, represented by the vertical lines; and the twelve elementals, represented by the diagonal lines. The mothers are by far the most important and correspond to a multitude of trinities (fire, water, and the breath that moves between them; body and spirit and the path of enlightenment that moves one to the other, and so on), but the other letters hold significant meaning as well: the doubles represent dualities such as life and death or prosperity and poverty, and the elementals represent the planets, the angels, even the signs of the zodiac.
Yes: The Zodiac arises as part of Jewish thought and scripture. And as a child, it was my exploration of astrology that first inspired many of my mystical interests and rooted many of my earliest stories in imagining the role of the elements in magic.
So I was shook. Reading this book was like reading the threads of my spirit.
There’s also another concept in Kabbalah of the five worlds, which are layers of existence from the most divine (practically the spirit of God undifferentiated from its original, infinite state) to the most basic (the physical world we live within).
And now I wasn’t just shook, but shattered.
Bear in mind that the Kabbalistic texts I’ve read previously didn’t dig into the details as the Sefer Yetzirah did, so the parallels I’m about to enumerate were ones I legitimately came upon myself without any outside influence that I was aware of, so as every layer of my own mythology unraveled before me, the fictional world view I’ve been cultivating since I was ten seemed to become more and more a reflection of reality as it actually is.
Wait, my mythology? What’s that about? If you’re a longtime reader, you may already know that I’ve been imagining a mythology of sorts since I was about ten, which I’ve been writing on and off (and rewriting many times) since I was twelve or thirteen. The very first thing I wrote was about a group of kids who possessed the powers of the elements: at first there were ten, but very soon two more were added to the list.
The story started on earth, but before they were awakened, they stumbled upon a portal to a higher realm of existence, and through their adventures they learned that there are in fact five different planes, and originally there was planned a story in each one.
Then I hit writers block and the story stopped. I forced myself to look backwards, toward the origins of the world, and as I moved back in time, I eventually came upon the creation story itself. It was, I knowingly admit, heavily influences by Kabbalistic interpretations of the creation mythos of Judaism, with heavy overtones of my own flavor to fit the world I was creating. Past those initial similarities, however, I began building a pantheon entirely outside of Jewish influence–the myths of Greece and Rome and Egypt and Nordic lands were then the greater influences for me. As time went by, new gods were added, some were removed, and this process of growth and decay continued for maybe as many as ten years until I settled upon a pantheon of 15 deities, of whom twelve were born during creation and three were formed afterward.
Twelve angels, three mothers
Alongside the pantheon were the elements that had inspired the first story, which had by then become the fourth in a saga of five books (the Creation, the Gods, the Immortals, the Elements, and Stories, a collection of lesser tales from the prior books).
The elements, since their earliest conception, I have called the Matrix, for reasons I’ve never known (maybe even just because the name sounded cool), and the Matrix has gone through more revisions than any other element of my mythology: first ten, each with a double element, then twelve, then as many as 25 or 32 at one point, and then I was in college, learning maths, and took a pragmatic, algebraic approach to their enumeration. The elements became the building blocks of the world, the bones of a three-dimensional body, the axes of a coordinate space, the quadrants therein, permutations of qualities that continue to be refined even after all this time (which has mostly been inactive, I’ll admit, since I started writing the Gods in 2012). Details aside, their count has been clear for years: First are the seven primary elements (representing the six directions of the coordinate axes and the point at their center), then the eight quadrants alongside the four winds (which are related to the elements through a particular part of the creation story that formed two of the three aforementioned additional deities and the caused coagulation of the elements as individual entities in their own right), and finally three transcendental elements that represent the spectra of the coordinate axes themselves.
Seven doubles, twelve elementals, three mothers
And in all my life, I have never until now spoken so publicly about the details of this world, but in seeing these parallels in the Sefer Yetzirah, I could not ignore it.
Hence my feeling, as I read through the commentary, of seeing a mirror upon the page and knowing that I had finally come upon the place, the place that one is always searching for without knowing what’s being searched for, and now that I’ve found it, now that I’m aware of where all these ideas came to me, if not how they came to me, is a feeling that I can’t quite put into words yet. I finished reading the Sefer Yetzirah about two weeks ago, and it’s taken this long for me to even manage to write all this, which itself leaves so much unsaid and unanswered. Is my mythology somehow a reimagining of the Kabbalah (which means “receiving,” hence the title of this post), or is it through my mathematical approach to my story that these similarities have arisen organically, possibly in the same way that the ancient Kabbalists came upon them for themselves?
I can’t say, and I’m not sure if ever I’ll be able to, but if the purpose of reading is evolution, than I feel this text has helped me ascend to a higher level.
But what comes next, I still do not know.