Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Secret Language of Jewish Spells II: The Music of God

[Making magic with sounds:
Close Encounters]

Some weeks ago I outlined how abbreviations function in Jewish amulets. More recently I've been asked about the seemingly endless permutations of the four-letter name of of God (Tetragrammaton in Greek, Shem ha-Meforash, Shem ha-Yah, Shem ha-Miuchud in Hebrew) that appear in all forms of Hebrew spells, talimans, and rituals of power.

The name, four letters, yud-hay-vav-hay (without vowels), which appears frequently throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, was already considered a topic of occult concern by the time of the Talmud, which states the proper pronunciation should only be transmitted orally, between master and disciple (B.T. Kiddushin 71b). That it has constructive power has been construed from the wording of Ps. 33.6, which literally reads, "By the word 'YHVH' were the heavens made." So the Name is a potent thing.

What really inspired the use of permutations of the Name was probably, as Naomi Janowitz notes, a merging of this ideology of the Name of power with a Greek belief in the divine meaning of vowels! As the Greek philosopher Nicomachus wrote, "And the tones [vowel sounds] of the seven spheres, each of which by nature produces a particular sound [seven vowel sounds in Greek, corresponding the the seven heavens] are the source of the nomenclature of the vowels. These are described as unpronounceable in themselves and in all their combinations by wise men...However, when they are combined with the materiality of the consonants...they have potencies which are efficacious and perfective of divine things. Thus theurgists...make invocation symbolically with hissing, clucking, and discordant sounds" [1]

The Church father Eusebius also recorded a teaching that the Four Letter Name was actually the seven vowels reduced to four (Preparation for the Gospels 11.6). Once there was circulating this ideology that the Four-Letter Name was really compounded of all vowels (yud is a dipthong - 'y', 'i', 'ee'; vav can serve double duty as an holam - 'oh,' 'oo'; and hay, which can also do double duty in Hebrew as a marker for 'ah'), then all these ideas (the power of the Name, the divinity of vowel sounds, the Name as divine expression of the cosmic vowels) came together so that the theurgic and ritual power possibilities of the Tetragrammaton began to be fully exploited. In Hebrew rituals of power, combining the divine letters with cycles of vowel sounds harmonizes the material and celestial spheres and activates divine forces to respond to the earthly adept. A dangerous venture, but one that promises access to power and wisdom.

Think of this in light of the tonal series used to communicate with the aliens in Close Encounters. Spielberg was taping into this very ancient belief in universal sounds and musicality, a process that (like magic) invites disintegration (how distressing was it from those who initially experienced it?) but, when done with the right intention, ends in harmony, initiation, and enlightenment!

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

1. As quoted in Janowitz, Icons of Power


Blogger Zeke said...

Rabbi Dennis, I've received your book from Amazon. The book is fruitful and I am going to spend few months to go through the whole book. Too bad I can't have your signature on it.

According to the The Gospel of the Egyptians from The Nag Hammadi Codex, there are several levels of the pronunciations of Tetragrammaton:

The Unknown Silence (equivalent to Ain Sof): i- E- o- u- e- a- O-

The Unknown Father (Arikh): iEa aio

Father (Abba): ae- E- i- u- O-

Mother (Imma): Ei a- O-

Male Virgin (Zeir Anpin): i- E- e- o- u- O- a-

The Child of the Child (Nukvah): iE ieus EO ou Oua

Such idea is very similar to some Kabbalist meditation systems, namely Abulafia's Or haShekhal and Ari's Yichud.

12:48 PM  

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