Biblical Love

« Ben Bag Bag said: Turn her over and over, for all is in her; search her, grow old and weary into her, and from her do not move, for there is nothing better for you than heri

In this short piece of advice, one can be struck by the deliberate ambiguity, the soft insinuation with which Ben Bag Bag introduces and cultivates the allusion – a metaphor for high-flying teaching.

The original meaning is clear. The figure « in which » to « wear out » is the Torah.

Already, the Song of Songs had accustomed us to the idea that erotic metaphors, even the most daring ones, could be applied to translate the highest and deepest spiritual realities.

Rambam (Maimonides) commented on Ben Bag Bag: « He says about the Torah: examine it in every sense and meditate on it, for everything is in it. And he adds, ‘Examine her’ (תחזי), for if you look at her with the eye of understanding, you will see the truth in her, as the Aramaic formula ‘and she lives’ is translated into Aramaic by וחזא. Then he says: ‘Grow old and use yourself into her’, that is to say, work into her until the end of old age and do not leave her for anything else. »

The Torah is like a woman, – a woman whom one loves for life, until old age, and « into whom » one must turn, return, wear out, and never leave.

Is such a metaphor permissible? To the wise, everything is possible. It is up to the commentator not to attempt the deeper intention. The metaphor of faithful, conjugal, lifelong, consecrated love is not a bad one. The associated images are transformed, then magnified, by their very slippage.

The same Pirqe Abot, michnah 4 of chapter 2, teaches: « He said: Fulfill His desire as if it were yours, so that He may fulfill your desire as if it were His own. Suspend your desire in front of His, then He will suspend the desire of others in front of yours. »

Rachi comments:  » ‘Fulfill His desire as if it were your own,’ even when you fulfill your desire, do it in the name of Heaven. ‘That he may fulfill your desire as though it were His own’, so that from Heaven you may be given well and abundantly. ‘Suspend your desire in the face of his’: compare the harm of the commandment with his wages; ‘then he will suspend the desire of others’, who stand against you to harm you. »

Biblical Hebrew is a crude language, where things are said directly, without detours. For example, the verb ‘to love’ רׇחַם is used like this: « I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. » The same word, in its substantive form, means: « womb, sex, breast, entrails », and also, « vulture, filthy bird » (- this name was given because of the vulture’s love for its young).

The word ‘desire’, רָצוֹן ratson, also means « complacency, contentment, pleasure, favour, joy, pleasure, grace ». The arc of the senses here runs from the most material to the most spiritual.

These words are like Jacob’s ladder, which one can use to climb to the highest Heavens or descend to the bottom of the abyss.

iPirqe Avot. Michna 5,22.

The true name of God (from Enlil and Ilu to El, Ilah and Allah)

On the plain of words, a worn-out ziggurat casts its shadow – the world of ideas is deeper than memory. Who measures its angles? Who discerns its diagonals? Who calculates the effect of rain and dust on it? Who can see the hollow that time leaves in it?

Towards the end of the 3rd millennium B.C., in Sumer, a poem celebrated the sovereign God, the God of gods. Enlil, his name Sumerian name, is its oldest written name, ever.

« Enlil! His authority is far-reaching,

His word is sublime, holy!

What he decides is imprescriptible.

He assigns forever the destiny of beings.

His eyes scan the entire earth.

His radiance penetrates to the farthest reaches of the land.

When the venerable Enlil takes his place in majesty..,

On his sacred and sublime throne,

When he exercises his powers as Lord and King in perfection,

The other gods spontaneously prostrate themselves before him and obey his orders without question.

He is the great and powerful ruler who dominates Heaven and Earth,

Who knows everything and understands everything.»i

A millennium later, a prayer in the Akkadian language was composed for the supreme God. His Akkadian name was Marduk.

« Lord Marduk, O supreme God, of unsurpassed intelligence..,

When you go to war, the heavens falter,

When you raise your voice, the sea is disturbed.

When you brandish your sword, the gods turn around.

Not a single one can resist your furious shock.

Fearful Lord, in the Assembly of the Gods, there is none like you! »ii

The language of the Sumerians does not belong to any known language family. As for the language of the Akkadians, which included Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic peoples, it was Semitic.

Sumerians and Akkadians began to mix in Mesopotamia from the 4th millennium BC. Jean Bottéroiii notes that the Akkadians arrived in the north and centre of Mesopotamia, whereas the Sumerians were already present in the south.

The mixing of these peoples took place gradually. A common cultural capital was formed over time.

The Sumerians were « the most active and inventive, » according to Jean Bottéro. They were the ones who invented writing, around ~3000. Sumerian is therefore the oldest language ever written.

From the 2nd millennium BC, the Sumerians were « absorbed » by the Semites. Akkadian remains the only spoken language, but the Sumerian language, a language of culture, liturgy and scholarship, does not disappear and continues to be written.

There is an enormous amount of documentation about this period. More than 500,000 documents written in Sumerian make it possible to study the religious world of these peoples, their prayers, hymns, rituals and myths.

In this mass of documents, there is no dogmatic, normative text. There are no « holy writings », no « revealed text ».

Yet religion permeated life. The sacred penetrated daily life.

In this multitude of assembled peoples, no one claimed the monopoly of a cognitive election, the supremacy of knowledge.

These peoples, these myriads, of diverse origins, shared together a sense of the sacred, an intuition of mystery.

In Babylonia, beliefs were humble, and the high priests remained modest in their formulas:

« The thoughts of the gods are as far from us as the depths of heaven.

It is impossible for us to penetrate them,

No one can understand them! »iv

To represent the idea of the divine in the Sumerian language, the cuneiform sign used was an eight-pointed star:

(pronunciation: dingir).

In Akkadian, this representation was simplified and stylized as follows:

(pronunciation: ilu).


This original Ilu later became El (God) among the Hebrews and Ilah (the Divinity) among the Arabs, who took the proper name of Allah, literally al Ilah: « the God ».

God, therefore, was written for the first time in Sumerian, Enlil, in four corner strokes, forming two crosses together, or a star.

Then the Akkadian, Semitic language, wrote it Ilu, in three cuneiform strokes, forming a cross or a star – with six branches.

i Source : A. Kalkenstein, Sumerischr Götterlieder

ii Source : E. Ebeling, Die Akkadische Gebetserie « Handerhebung »

iii Cf. J.Bottéro, Mésopotamie. L’écriture, la raison et les dieux. Folio. Paris, 1997

iv Source : W.G. Lambert. Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Cit. in J. Bottéro, Mésopotamie. L’écriture, la raison et les dieux. Folio. Paris, 1997

The True Meaning of Exile

« Light, intelligence and wisdom ». These three words are used together several times in the Book of Daniel. The queen, wife of King Balthazar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, praises Daniel’s « extraordinary spirit » as follows: « There is a man in your kingdom in whom dwells the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father there was in him light and understanding and wisdom like that of the gods. « (Dan. 5:11).

Then Balthazar called him and said: « Are you Daniel, of the people of the deportation of Judah, brought from Judah by my father the king? I have heard that the spirit of the gods resides in you and that in you is light, intelligence and extraordinary wisdom. « (Dan. 5:13-14)

Daniel had already experienced a glorious hour in Babylon when he had explained the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, and revealed their « secret », their « mystery ».

The Hebrew word for « secret » and « mystery » is רָז (raz). This word is of Persian origin, and it is only found in the Bible in the Book of Daniel alone. It is also found later in the Qumran texts. It may be used in various contextsi.

Nebuchadnezzar had defeated the kingdom of Judah and destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in ~587. However Daniel brought him to resignation by revealing “the mystery”.

The mystery takes on its full value, its true meaning, only when it is brought to light, when it is « revealed », as in the verse: « It is he who reveals the deep and hidden things. »(Dan. 2:22).

The Hebrew verb used for « reveal » is גָלָה (galah) which means: « To discover, to appear, to reveal, to make known ». But in a derived sense, it means: « To emigrate, to be taken into captivity, to be exiled, to be banished. » In the niphal form, “To be uncovered, to be naked; to reveal oneself, to be announced.”

For example, « Have the gates of death been opened to you? « (Job 38:17), « There God revealed himself to him. « (Gen. 35:7), « The glory of God will be manifested. « (Is. 40:5).

It is the « revelation » that constitutes the deep substance of the secret, its inner fabric, much more than the secret itself, which is only the external appearance. A secret forever buried in the depths of time would be like a seed that would never germinate.

And, in Hebrew, “to reveal” evokes another series of meanings, revolving around emigration, exile, banishment. A penetration of the secret, an entry into the mystery, evokes a departure to a foreign land, or even a deportation, like an exile to Babylon…

A child of exile, a deportee from Judah, « reveals » his own « secret » to the king who « exiled » his people, – and by doing so, who « discovered » Judah, who made it « appear ».

Irony and depth of words, which say more than they are meant to say.

The word גָלָה (galah), which means « to reveal » and « to emigrate », also reaches a sublime form of mystery. By linking « revelation » and « emigration », it deepens a mystery whose meaning it does not reveal.

i« Then the mystery (רָז ) was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. « (Dan. 2:19)

« He who reveals depths and secrets (רָז ) knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.  » (Dan. 2:22)

« The mystery (רָז ) that the king pursues, wise men, soothsayers, magicians and exorcists have not been able to discover it to the king. « (Dan. 2:27)

« But there is a God in heaven who reveals the mysteries (רָז ) and who has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what is to happen at the end of days. Your dream and the visions of your head on your bed, here they are. « (Dan. 2:28)

« This mystery (רָז ) has been revealed to me, and I have no more wisdom than anyone else, for the sole purpose of letting the king know its meaning. « (Dan. 2:30)

« And the king said to Daniel: « Truly your god is the God of gods, and the master of kings, the revelator of mysteries (רָז ), since you were able to reveal the mystery (רָז ).  » (Dan. 2:47)

Pe’or – a Very Modern Idol

According to the Talmud of Jerusalem, a Jew,  named Sabbathai of Ulama, one day entered the temple of Pe’or, then « fulfilled a need and wiped himself on Pe’or’s face. All who heard of it praised the man for this deed and said: « Never has anyone ever acted as well as he did.»i

What to think of this curious scene? The Talmud seems to regard it as a great deed, an act of courage showing the contempt of an Israelite for the idols of the Moabites. A Jew, defecates on the idol, wipes himself on the idol’s nose, and receives praise from his fellow believers.

In reality, no blasphemy, no transgression happened then: the cult of Pe’or consisted precisely in doing this sort of rite. Rashi explains it very well: « PE’OR. Named so because people undressed (פוערין ) in front of him and relieved themselves: that is what his cult consisted of. »

One may infer from that indication that the Talmud’s comment (« No one has ever acted as well as he did ») could not come in fact from other Jews, supposed to be gleefully approving of Sabbathaï desecrating the idol.

How could law-abiding Jews approve of a Jew who would have just strictly followed the rites of a pagan cult in the temple of Pe’or?

It is more likely that the praise for Sabbathai came rather from the Moabites themselves, being surprised (and maybe flattered) to see an Israelite following the rites of worship of Pe’or, and even adding a final touch of perfection, a remarkable pirouette.

The name Pe’or comes from the verbal root ָפָּעַר which in Hebrew means « to open one’s mouth wide ». The god Peor, a.k.a Ba’al Pe’or, (and better known in the West as Belphegor), was the « god of openness ». Whether this openness is that of the mouth or that of the anus is of secondary importance. It could just as well be a reference to the opening mouth of the Earth or of Hell.

In fact, Isaiah uses the word pe’or in an infernal, hellish, context: « Therefore the Sheol expands its throat and opens its mouth ( וּפָעֲרָה פִיהָ) inordinately.»ii

Another word, very close phonetically (פָּצַה), means « to split, to open wide », and in a metaphorical sense « to unchain, to deliver ». The Psalmist uses it in this way: « Deliver me, save me.»iii

Ba’al Pé’or, god of « openness », is a god over whom one could defecate “religiously”. That was a metaphor for deliverance…

One may say, rather counter-intuitively, that Ba’al Pé’or also prefigured, beyond what could be considered the apparent nothingness of idols, and their laughable inanity, a more disturbing idea:  that of a Godhead ultimately despised and humiliated, – by the defecation of human excrements.

A very modern idea.

iQuoted in Georges Sorel, in Le système historique de Renan, Paris, Ed. G. Jacques, 1906

ii Is. 5, 14

iii Ps. 144,7

The sudden rapture of Enoch


It was very brutal, very sudden. « Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more, for God took him away. »i A real trick. The construction of the sentence is straightforward, without nuance. If we translate word for word: « Enoch walked with God (in the text: ‘to the Gods’: et-ha-Elohim,  אֶתהָאֱלֹהִים ), then, ‘nothing more of him, vé-éïnénou, וְאֵינֶנּוּ ‘, because God (Elohim) took him away (or: seized him), ki-laqa oto Elohim  כִּילָקַח אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים

The expression used to render the key moment of Enoch’s disappearance (‘nothing more of him’ – éïnénou) evokes a kind of nothingness, an ‘absence’ instantaneously substituting for the ‘presence’ of Enoch, for his walking in ‘presence of God’, during three centuries.

Rachi comments as follows: « Enoch was a righteous man, but weak in conscience and easy to turn to evil. So God hastened to take him out of this world before his time. That is why the text expresses itself differently when it speaks of his death, and says: AND HE WAS NO LONGER in this world to complete his years. »

Therefore, Rashi does not believe that Enoch was taken up to Heaven in the manner of Elijah, like in a ‘rapture’. According to Rashi it is only a metaphor, a vigorous one admittedly, but which only translates the death of a « just », who was also a little « weak ».

I find that Rashi’s commentary falls rather short of the text.

Why demean Enoch by calling him a « weak man and easy to incite to evil »? Enoch is a « just » man. This is no small thing. Moreover, « he walks with God ». This is not a sign of weakness. Secondly, why does Rashi say that God « hastened to take him out of this world before his time, » when Enoch had already been walking with God ( וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ, אֶתהָאֱלֹהִים ) for three hundred yearsii?

If we add the years that Enoch lived before giving birth to Methuselah, Enoch lived a total of three hundred and sixty five yearsiiiThat is a long time before God decided to “hasten”...

A thousand years before Rashi, Philo of Alexandria had proposed a completely different interpretation. « Enoch was pleasing to God, and ‘they could not find him’ (Gen. 5:24). Where would one have looked to find this Good? What seas would one have crossed? On what islands, on what continents? Among the Barbarians, or among the Greeks? Aren’t there not even today initiates in the mysteries of philosophy who say that wisdom is without existence, since the wise man does not exist either? So it is said that ‘he could not be found’, that way of being which was pleasing to God, in the sense that while it exists well, it is hidden from view, and that it is hidden from us where it is, since it is also said that God took it away ».iv

Philo goes from the figure of Enoch to that of Good. Where to find the Good? Where to find Wisdom? Just because we can’t find them, doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly disappeared, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Philo sees in the text an incitement to take flight towards high ideas. Probably an influence of Pythagoras and Plato. A form of encounter, the spirit of Israel and that of Greece.

After Philo and Rashi, what can we still see in this passage of Genesis?

The name Enoch (חֲנוֹךְ ) gives a clue. It means « the initiate », « the one who is dedicated ». The word anukah has the same root. Long before it meant the feast of the same name, which commemorates the victories of the Maccabees, this word had the generic meaning of « inauguration », of « dedication »: the dedication of the altar (Num. 7:11) or the inauguration of the temple (Ps. 30:1).

Enoch was a living « dedication ». He had « dedicated » himself to God. He was a “walking” sacrifice (like Isaac, walking to the place of his sacrifice).

Enoch had given his own life as a sacrifice. God was pleased with him, and God walked « with him ». Then, one day, suddenly, God took him away.

Why that day, precisely, and not before or after?

I think that Enoch was taken away on the day he was 365 years old. He had spent 65 years until he became the father of Methuselah, and 300 more years of walking in the presence of God. A life of 365 years, that is, a year of years.v

A « year of years » is a good metaphor to signify the perfection of time accomplished, the sum of the life of a righteous man.

But why was Enoch ‘suddenly’ no longer seen?

When God takes hold of a soul, it is not done in a picosecond or a femtosecond or even as one might say, ‘immediately’.

It is done in a time without time, infinitely short in the beginning, and infinitely long, immediately afterwards.

i Gen. 5, 24

ii Gen. 5,22

iiiGen. 5, 21-23

iv Mutatione Nominum, 34-38

vGen. 5, 21-23

Going Beyond Migration.

Angels, powers, virtues, dominions, seraphim, cherubim, and many other supernatural envoys and agents of the Jewish or Christian traditions, do not always confine themselves to their supposed rankings, to their orders of precedence, because of their subtle and incessant ascents, their internal movements and connections, and their continuous descents.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar, for instance, sees their endless interpenetration as a metaphor and a possible illustration of the process at work within the Trinity, a process which he names the “conversation”. Each divine Person sees the Face of God in the Other Person, a Face of a God greater than any total understanding, eternally worthy of worship, even for a divine Person. The « Trinitarian conversation » is like an image of the « original prayer ».

This « Trinitarian conversation » could be imagined as a supreme metaphor, far above the entanglement of sephirotic whispers, the murmurs of the zephyrs, the atonal choirs of angels, their distant echoes, their evanescent evocations, their systemic symphonies.

In these elevated and delicate realities, the metaphors we are bound to use are only an invitation to journey. We have to move, always again, always further, we must always “go beyond”.

“To go beyond”in Hebrew: Habar, עָבַר. The English word ‘Hebrew’ was coined precisely from the Hebrew word – habar. Does it still convey its original meaning?

We may generalize this semantic intuition. The destiny of man is that of a never ending migration, possibly continuing, after death, in a future life. Men have been created as eternal migrants, en route for an infinite discovery.

Where does the soul go when she migrates?

We don’t know. But between “being here” and “being gone”, we may think of a continuity. We may dream that there is a way, a path. We may cherish the eventuality of a path leading to some place of unexpected interest, where to look after hidden gates, opening on new horizons.

Of course, this is a « fantastic » idea, in the sense that Plato gave to the word « phantasmos » in the Sophist.

Why consider it? As migrants, on our faces, we bear metaphysical scars. Under the scars, a rift. Under the rift, another face, yet hidden. We migrate within our scars.

Lightning, thunder, zephyrs, whispers. Metaphors invite us to navigate even further, to leave behind the grammatical ports, the security of our roots.

The next mutation will be yet another migration. Man is changing. The self-transformation of the human species is underway. A new language, visionary, is needed, beyond grammar, beyond roots, beyond migration.

In the Mire, Drowning Angels.

We humans are fundamentally nomads, – with no nomosi. We are forever nomads with no limits, and no ends.

Always dissatisfied, never at peace, never at rest, perpetually on the move, forever in exile.

The Journey has no end. Wandering is meaningless, without clues. The homelands are suffocating. Landscapes are passing by, and we have no roots. No abyss fulfills us. The deepest oceans are empty. The skies, down there, are fading. The suns are pale, the moons dirty. The stars are blinking. We can only breathe for a moment.

Our minds would like to look beyond the diffuse background, behind the veiled Cosmos. But even an infinitely powerful Hubble telescope couldn’t show us anything of what’s behind. Cosmology is a prison, only vaster, but still finite, bounded, and we are already tired of endless, useless, multiverses, and weary of their aborted drafts.

The worried soul « pursues an Italy that is slipping away », but Virgil is not anymore our vigilante, and Aeneas is not our elder. Rome has forgotten itself. Athens has died out. Jerusalem, we already have returned there, – so they say.

Billions of people live, dream and die on the Promised Land.

They try, every night, to drink the water of the Lethe and the Cocyte, without being burnt by the Phlegethon. When they wake up, they are always thirsty for new caresses, they want again to smell myrrh, to taste nectars.

They try to avoid the icy skin of mirrors. They desperately scan the hairy mountains, the undecided rivers, the bitter oranges. They follow the hard curve of the fruits, the orb of the colors.

But at one point the heart hits, the body falls. At any moment, the final night will cover the sun. Forgetting all will come without fail.

Euripides called life: « the dream of a shadow ».ii

This shadow has two wings, – not six, like Ezekiel’s angels.

Intelligence and will are our wings, says Plato.

With one wing, the shadow (or the soul) sucks in, breathes in. The world comes into her.

With the other wing, she goes to all things, she flies freely, anywhere.

When the two wings flap together, then anything is possible. The soul can evade anywhere, even out of herself, and even from God Himself. As Marsilio Ficino says: « Animus noster poterit deus quidam evadere ».

There is a mysterious principle at the heart of the soul: she becomes what she’s looking for. She is transformed into what she loves.

Who said that? A litany of impressive thinkers. Zoroaster, King David. Plato, Porphyry, Augustine. Paul put it that way: « And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory. »iii

It is indeed a mysterious principle.

The word ‘mystery’ comes from the Greek μύω, to close. This verb was originally used for the eyes, or for the lips. Closed eyes. Closed lips. The religious meaning, as a derivative, describes an ancient problem: how could what is always closed be ever opened?

Zoroaster found an answer, kind of: « The human soul encloses God in herself, so to speak, when, keeping nothing mortal, she gets drunk entirely on the divinity”.iv

Who still reads or pays attention to Zoroaster today?

Nietzsche? But Nietzsche, the gay barbarian, joyfully ripped away his nose, teeth and tongue. After that, he pretended he could speak on his behalf. Also Sprach Zarathustra. Ach so? Wirklich?

There are two kinds of thinkers.

There are the atrabilaries, who distill their venom, their suspicions, their despair, or their limitations, like Aristotle, Chrysippus, Zeno, Averroes, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche.

And there are the optimists, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, or Apollonius of Thyana. They believe in life and in everything that may flourish.

We’ll rely on Heraclitus for a concluding line: “If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail”. (Fragm. 18)

What can we learn from that fragment?

Without hope, everything is and will stay forever mud, mire, or muck. We have to search for the unexpected, the impossible, the inaccessible… What on earth could it be? – Gold in the mud, – or in the mire, drowning angels?

iNomos (Greek) = Law

ii Medea, 1224

iii2 Co 3,18

iv ChaldaicOracles V. 14.21

From the Ass to the Skull and Far Beyond

The Sanskrit language, flexible, learned, sophisticated, has words to designate each of the seven « cakra » that punctuate the human body, from the anus to the occiput. These words are at the origin of analogies, forming a world view, systemic, integrated, structuring. They draw an architecture of metaphors, metonymies, catachresis and synecdoches, linking the human body to the universe, – and to God.

From the lowest to the highest, the seven cakra are also associated with the seven ‘senses’, respectively smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing, mind, and « vision ». They are also related to the seven « states » of the universe: earth, water, fire, air, ether, spirit, and the state called « divine union ». This symbolic gradation of the cakra can be interpreted on the physical level and also as the image of a moral gradation.

The first cakra is the « muladhara » (literally « foundation support »). It’s the anus, and it’s related to smell, and to the earth. It symbolizes the awakening incentive.

The second cakra is called « svadhisthana » (literally « the seat of the self »). It’s the sex. It is related to taste, and water. It symbolizes self-discovery.

The third cakra is called « manipura » (literally « abundant in jewels »). It’s the solar plexus. It is related to sight. It is associated with fire. It evokes the life force.

The fourth cakra is called « anahata » (literally « ineffable »). It’s the heart. We connect it to touch, and we associate it with air. It symbolizes the subtle sound.

The fifth cakra is called « visuddha » (literally « very pure »). It’s the larynx, which is linked to hearing. It is associated with ether. It symbolizes the sacred Word.

The sixth cakra is « ājnā », (literally « the order »). It is the forehead, linked to the mind. It is associated with the spirit, and it symbolizes the truth.

The seventh and last cakra is « sahasrara », (literally the cakra « with a thousand rays »). It is the occiput, which is linked to « vision » and kudalin yoga. It symbolizes divine union.

Catachresis and synecdoques abound in this general picture.

What does the connection of the plexus with sight and fire involve? What does the liaison of the heart to touch, to air and to « subtle sound » really mean? It can be assumed that the link of larynx to hearing is related to phonation, and that it is the ether and not the air that seems to be the medium of meaning, of the « verb ».

If we reflect on the details and implications of these relationships, what strikes us is the will to make system, to connect the body and the mind, semantically and symbolically, to the cosmos. The successive circles of consciousness, from the body foundation up to divine union, are clearly inscribed in human flesh, and described in human mind, through the precise modulations of the Sanskrit language.

However, what language, what words, could ever be able to convey the meaning of the thousand rays of « sahasrara »?

Those who saw and followed some of these rays, up to the core of their suns, only understood that they signal a disruptive way out of our common understanding.

Adolf Hitler, Theodor Herzl and their « kitsch romanticism »

The most famous men want to leave traces, legacies. What’s left of it? Often few things.

History is full of ex-post celebrities, whose memory is judged with harshness, irony or indifference by subsequent generations.

Tacitus reports: “Calvus appeared to Cicero exsanguinated and overly exhausted, and Brutus idle and struck; conversely Cicero was criticized by Calvus, who found him relaxed and without muscles, and by Brutus, on the other hand, who said he was ‘soft and with no balls’. If you ask me, everyone seems to have been right.”i

More recently, Victor Klemperer was not afraid to depict Adolf Hitler and Theodor Herzl in similar, offbeat ways. « Both Hitler and Herzl live largely on the same heritage. I have already named the German root of Nazism, it is narrow-minded and perverted romanticism. If I add kitsch romanticism, then the intellectual and stylistic community of the two Führer (sic) is designated as accurately as possible. »ii

Comparing Theodor Herzl to a « Führer » may be daring. But Klemperer’s method of analysis favours the understanding of shifts in the meaning of words. The German language changed in many ways after the advent of the Third Reich.

The word Führer could, it seems, be applied without problem to Herzl in 1896 or 1904, but also, though with a different nuance, to Hitler between 1933 and 1945. It is a testimony to the fragility and transience of the meaning of words through time, a sign of the volatility of their resonances.

Klemperer reports another example of these shifts of meaning, through the words « to believe » and « belief », during the rise of Nazism. He sees it as a symptom of a quasi-religious phenomenon caused by Hitler’s ascension into German consciousness: « The Führer has always stressed his particularly close relationship with the divinity, his « election », the particular bond of filiation that links him to God, his religious mission. »iii

If Klemperer’s hypothesis proves true, one would have to question the meaning of the words « divinity », « election », « filiation », « religion » and the extent of their derivations.

While we are at it, we could propose a generalization of Klemperer’s corrosive analysis.

It could be especially rewarding to make a comparative “spectrography” of all the words relating to the « divine », the « sacred », the « mystery », the”spirit”, the “soul”, etc., in all the languages of the world.

Such a linguistic “spectrography” would lay a fruitful foundation for a global anthropology of religious sentiment.

And who knows, we may find new interpretations of the meaning of the word “god”.

iTacitus. Dialogus de Oratoribus, XVIII,5-6

iiVictor Klemperer, LTI, La langue du IIIème Reich, Ch. 29, Sion, p.274

iiiIbid., ch. 18, « I believe in him ».

Bound to Build the Collective Unconscious of Humanity

Several centuries before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, the Zend-Avesta religion revered in ancient Iran a ‘Lord of Lords’, a ‘supreme God’, named Ahura Mazda,which translates, in Pehlevi, or Middle Persian, as Ormuzd. Ahura Mazda has also other names, such as Spenta Mainyu, literally: « the Holy Spirit ».

Ahura Mazda reigns unique over all other, lower ranking, divinities, called ‘Gâthâs’.

Ahura Mazda being a supreme God, far beyond human reach or understanding, the prayers of the Zend-Avesta are addressed to the Gâthâs, rather than to Ahura Mazda, though they are only ‘intermediate divinities’, or more exactly ’emanations’ of Ahura Mazda. The Yasna says about the Gâthâs: « All the worlds, the bodies, the bones, the vital forces, the forms, the consciousness, the soul, the Phravaṣi, we offer them all and present them to the Gâthâs, Saints, Lords of time, pure; to the Gâthâs who are for us supporters, protectors, a food of the spirit.»i

In Avestic, which is the ancient Iranian language, Ahura means « lord ». Mazda means « highly learned », according to the eminent Burnouf, who breaks down the word mazda into maz – dâ. Maz is a superlative, and means « to know ». In modern Persian, dânâ means « learned ». There is also an equivalent in Sanskrit: « mêdhas« .

When asked by Zoroaster about the meaning of his Name, Ahura Mazda declared, as reported in the first Yast:

« My name is the Sovereign, my name is the One who knows ».

Zoroaster did not stick to this answer and continued to question Ahura Mazda. He urged him to reveal what is most powerful, most effective against the Spirit of Evil, Aṅra Mainyu (in Pehlevi: Ahriman), and against all the demons.

Ahura Mazda replied that what is most powerful is the names he bears.

And he added:

« My name is the One to be questioned; my second name is the Head of the flock; the Propagator of the law; the excellent Purity; the Good of pure origin; the Intelligence; the One who understands; the Wise; the Growth; the One who increases; the Lord; the One who is most useful; the One who is without suffering; the One who is solid; the One who counts the merits; the One who observes everything; the Helper; the Creator; the All-Knowing (the Mazda) (…). Remember and pronounce these names day and night. I am the Protector, the Creator, the Suspender, the Savior, the Most Holy Celestial Being. My name is the Auxiliary, the Priest, the Lord; I am called the One who sees much, the One who sees far away. My name is the Supervisor, the Creator, the Protector, the Connoisseur. I am called the One who augments; I am called the Dominator, the One who should not be deceived, the One who is not deceived; I am called the Strong, the Pure, the Great; I am called the One who has good science.

Whoever remembers and pronounces these names will escape the attacks of demons. »ii

In passing, we note the obvious analogy of these lines with comparable, but much later, texts of Judaism, and even later texts of Islam.

Avesta has all the characteristics of a revealed religion.

First of all, it was God (Ahura Mazda) who initially revealed himself to the Mazdaites.

Then, the Avesta refers to a great prophet, Zoroaster, who boasts of having served as an intermediary between God and man, and who was the great reformer of Mazdeism. The most recent scientific work shows that Zoroaster lived before Abraham, between 1400 and 1100 BC. He was the prophet who transformed the initial dualism of Mazdaism and the multiplicity of the various Gâthâs into an absolutely transcendental monism, after having discussed it directly with Ahura Mazda.

The interaction between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster is not without analogy with the encounter between God and Moses, several centuries later.

From this strident comparison we may derive the following rough alternative.

The Materialistic Hypothesis :

The « world from above », the world of the divine, whose variations, analogies and anagogies, similarities and echoes one tries to identify in the long history of religious ideas, simply does not exist. The ‘spiritual’ world is really empty, there is no God, and it is the materialists who are 100% right. So the wars of religion, the sacrifices, the martyrs, the passions of belief, and all the blood shed today, yesterday and tomorrow, are all facets of a sinister farce played by scoundrels or Machiavellian policies at the expense of the unfathomable naivety of peoples, victims of their credulity and superstition.

This farce is continually developed and rewritten over the millennia by the so-called ‘enlightened’, the mad, the deranged, the cynical and the war criminals, all contributing to making this Earth a place without meaning, without past and without future. In this hypothesis, the world would be condemned to self-destruction, moral suicide and absolute violence, as soon as the trickery is finally blown up.

The Spiritual Hypothesis:

The « world from above » does indeed exist, in one way or another, but it escapes our perception, our understanding and intellection. It’s a Mystery, or the Mystery. In this case, there is a good chance that religions that have appeared since the dawn of time, such as Shamanism, the ancient Egyptian religion, Veda, Avesta, Mazdeism, Zoroastrianism, Chaldaic magic, Orphism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, far from being able to claim an elective singularity, are as many instances of various perceptions and intuitions of the divine by man, as many testimonies of the plurality of possible approaches to the Mystery.

Each one of these religions represents a unique and special way of understanding the divine emanation, more or less adapted to the time and the peoples who receive it.

It would then be futile to rank or classify religions among themselves. It would be more productive, particularly from a forward-looking perspective, to examine the systemic relationships between a given era and the way in which religious fact is inscribed, at that moment in history, in the social, cultural, political and economic fabric.

Let us add that the general state of the world today, unfortunately suggests hat none of the religions mentioned above is now in a position to claim a monopoly on the ultimate truth or the final revelation on the fundamental questions that humanity keeps asking itself since millennia.

If such a « world from above », inaccessible to human reason, does in fact exist, it also implies that something extremely important, vital, and also beyond human comprehension, has been at stake for thousands of years at the core of Mankind, with the active but hidden and (most of the time) silent complicity of the Divine.

It should be assumed that since the dawn of humanity there has been a kind of cosmic, sidereal « great game », whose meaning and purpose are clearly beyond our grasp, but in which men are invited to take part, within the limits of their limited means.

Humanity is composed of generations that fleetingly pass through the earth like insects in the light on a summer evening. It is therefore very likely that these successive generations can only apprehend in a deficient way, the unspeakable challenge of this super-natural arrangement.

But it is possible to assume that successive human generations may from time to time generate in their midst enlightened spirits capable of intuitively perceiving, imaginalement (‘imaginally’), as Henry Corbin would say, the grandiose stake of this divine part.

All we can do in an era like ours, where materialism seems to pervade everything, is to refuse to let ourselves be caught up in the trap of preconceived ideas, to refuse sectarianism, dogmatism, the prisons of thought and imagination. We can actively contribute, soul by soul, to the slow, fragile and ungraspable building of the immanent Noosphere, the collective Unconscious of all humanity.

iYasna, ch. 54

iiQuoted by Abel Hovelacque, Avesta, Zoroastre et le mazdéisme. Paris, 1880.

A Good News for Our Dark Times

A thousand years before Abraham, and twelve or fifteen centuries before the drafting of Genesis, Sanchoniaton cried out: « The Spirit blows on darkness ».

The Phoenicians, a people of merchants and travelers, invented the alphabet, but they left almost no written record. The only written monument they have left is a fragment attributed to this Sanchoniaton, priest of Tyre, according to Philo of Byblos. Sanchoniaton lived before the Trojan War, and more than 2000 years BC.

The name ‘Sanchoniaton, according to Ernest Renan, comes from the Greek word Σαγχων, « who lives ». In ancient Coptic Koniath means « holy dwelling », or « place where the archives are kept ». ‘Sanchoniaton’ would therefore mean « the one who lives with the holy college », or « the archivist »…

The quoted fragment of Sanchoniaton is precious, because it is one of the few remaining testimonies of a fabulous era, where elite human minds were able to converge, despite harsh cultural and linguistic differences, around strong ideas.

In those times, the Veda, the Avesta, the Genesis, the theogonies of Hesiod and the ‘Sanchoniaton’ could appear as different and complementary phases of the same history, and not as separate claims of peoples seeking for themselves an original proeminence.

The « sacred fire » was revered among the Egyptians, Greeks, Hebrews and Persians. The idea of a Unique God was present among the Hebrews, but also in the Orphic religion, in Mazdaism, in the religion of Chaldean magic.

The Unique God had also already been celebrated by the Veda and the Zend Avesta, more than a millennium before Abraham left Ur.

According to the most recent research on the archaeological field, monotheism did not settle in Israel until the end of the monarchical period, in the 8th century BC.

In the verses of Homer, who lived in the 8th century BC, more than a thousand years after Sanchoniaton, we find reminiscences of the universal intuition of the priest of Tyre. Gods abound in the Homeric work, but their plurality is only an appearance. The most important thing to understand is that Heaven and Earth are linked, and connected. The human and the divine merge. Men are descendants of the gods, and heroes are made of their fabric.

There are other traces of the long memory of this region of the world. Under Ptolemy Philadelphia, Manethu, a priest of Sebennytus, compiled the history of the thirty-one Egyptian dynasties, from Menes to Alexander, and traced their origin back to 3630 BC.

Champollion, according to indications collected in the tombs of Thebes, dates the institution of the 365-day Egyptian calendar back to 3285 BC.

It can be estimated that the astronomical knowledge of this ancient period was therefore already much higher than that of the nomadic peoples who still counted per lunar month.

The Phoenician of Tyre, Sanchoniaton, lived four thousand years ago. He left as his legacy, for centuries, some fragments, overturning in advance some preconceived ideas about the god Thoth, who would later be identified with Hermes, Mercury, Idrîs and Henoch.

Sanchoniaton calls him Taut, and gives this brief description: « Taut excites the Elohim, El’s companions, in battle by singing them war songs. »

Sanchoniaton also claims that Taut was the son of Misor, in other words Misr or Misraim, a term used to name the Egyptian colonies of the Black Sea, the main one being Colchis.

Moreau de Jonnès explains that Taut (or Thôt) received the name of Mercury, ‘Her-Koure’, the Lord of the Koures. « This name derives from Kour, the sun. The Coraitis and Coraixites lived in Colchis. The Kour River, Dioscurias, Gouriel remind us of this generic name. Her-Koure was the God of traffickers and navigators (emblem of the fish), ancestors of the Phoenicians. According to Strabon, the Corybantes (Kouronbant) were native to Colchis. »

In Colchis, located on the Black Sea coast, now called Abkhazia, and recently torn from Georgia, the magnificent villas of the Russian oligarchs and the silovniki of the FSB flourish today…

Eusebius of Caesarea reports that the beginning of the ‘Sanchoniaton’ was translated by Philo as follows: « At the beginning of the world there was a dark air and the Spirit – or the Breath – was dark, and there was the Chaos troubled and plunged into the night. »

These words were written a thousand years before the first verses of Genesis.

What did the priest of Tyre really want to say? He said that the Spirit has been blowing on darkness since the beginning of the world, – thus fighting against Chaos and Night. He said that the Spirit was Light, and breathed Light…

That’s pretty good news in our dark, troubled times. Isn’t it?

The ‘God of the Gods’ and the’ Idolaters’

Secrets are to be kept untold, and to remain so. But what about their very existence? The owners of essential (or even divine) secrets, though not allowed to reveal any of their content, sometimes give in to the temptation to allude to the fact that they are the custodians of them.

They cannot and will not reveal anything, of course, but they maybe inclined to leak that they know ‘something’, that could be revealed some day, though it has to remain secret, for the time being.

Of course, this attitude is childish, and dangerous.

Exciting the curiosity of outsiders brings problems, and can turn sour.

If a secret is a secret, then it has to be absolutely kept secret, and its very existence has also to be kept hidden.

Voltaire points out the problem that those claiming big, ‘magical’ secrets may encounter: « Let us see some secret of your art, or agree to be burned with good grace, » he writes in the article « Magic » of his Philosophical Dictionary.

Secrecy, magic and religion have had, over the centuries, chaotic, contradictory and confrontational relationships. Those who openly claimed knowledge of higher levels of understanding, but who refused to share them, were exposed to jealousy, anger, hatred and ultimately violence. They could be accused of fraud or heresy, so much the vaunted knowledge of ultimate secrets could be a source of cleavage, of suspicion.

The famous Magi kings came from Mesopotamia, or present-day Iran, to pay tribute to a newborn child, in Bethlehem, bringing gold, incense and myrrh in their luggage. Undoubtedly, they were also carriers of deep secrets. As Magi, they must have known the mysteries of Mithra, the achievements of the Zoroastrian tradition and maybe some other teachings from further East.

In those days, ideas, mystical traditions and mysteries were traveling fast.

There is no doubt for instance that the Latin word ‘deus’ (god) came all the way from the vedic ‘deva’, which is a Sanskrit word.

According to Franz Cumont, a ‘deva’, in the Veda, is first and foremost, a « being of light », and by a metaphorical extension a « god ». One also finds, in Avestic texts of Zend-Avesta, attributed to Zoroaster, the very similar term of ‘daêva’, but with a very different meaning.

« Daêvas » are not « gods », they are « devils », evil spirits, hostile to the beneficial power of Ahura Mazda, the Good and Almighty God of Zoroastrianism. This inversion of meaning, « gods » (deva) being turned into « devils » (daêva), is striking.

The peoples of ancient Iran borrowed their gods and much of their religion from the neighboring people in the Indus basin, but reversed the meaning of some key words, probably to better distinguish themselves from their original tribes.

Why this need to stand out, to differentiate oneself?

Jan Assman in his book, Moses the Egyptian, points to the fact that the Hebrews reportedly borrowed a number of major ideas from the ancient Egyptian religion, such as monotheism, as well as the practice of sacrifice, but then « inverted » the meaning of some of these fundamental ideas.

Assmann calls this borrowing followed by an inversion, the « Mosaic distinction ».

For example, the ‘Bull’ stands for a sacred representation of the God Apis among Egyptians, and the bull is thus a ‘sacred’ animal, just as in India cows are.

But, following the « Mosaic distinction’, the Hebrews sacrificed without restraint cattle and sheep, which were considered sacred in Egypt.

The Veda and the Zend Avesta keep track of the genesis and decadence of almost forgotten beliefs. These texts form an essential milestone for the understanding of religions that were later developed further west, in the Chaldea, Babylon, Judea-Samaria. The clues are fragile, but there are many avenues for reflection.

For example, the Avestic god Mithra is a « God of the Hosts », which reminds us of the Elohim Tsabaoth of the Hebrews. He is the Husband and Son of a Virgin and Immaculate Mother. Mithra is a Mediator, close to the Logos, the word by which Philo of Alexandria, Jewish and Hellenophone, translates Wisdom (Hokhmah), celebrated by the Hebrew religion, and also close to the Evangelical Logos.

As such, Mithra is the Intermediary between the Almighty Divine Power and the created world. This idea has been taken up by Christianity and Jewish Kabbalah. In the cult of Mithra, sacraments are used, where wine, water and bread are the occasion for a mystical banquet. This is close to the rites of the Jewish Sabbath or Christian Communion.

These few observations indicate that there is no lack of continuity in the wide geographical area from Indus to Oxus, Tigris, Euphrates, Jordan and Nile to Greece and Rome. On this immense arc, fundamental beliefs, first intuitions, sowing seeds among peoples, intersect and meet.

The Vedic Mitra, the Avestic Mithra are figures that announce Orpheus and Dionysus. According to an etymology that borrows its sources from the language of Avesta, Dionysus must be understood as an Avestic name : div-an-aosha, that is: « the God of the drink of immortality ».

The Jews themselves, guardians of the tradition of the one God, bear witness to the antiquity of the belief, common to all the peoples of this vast region, in the God of the Gods. « As our masters note, the Name of the God of the Gods has always been a common tradition among idolaters.»i

The prophet Malachi also said: « For from sunrise to sunset, my Name is great among the nations. »ii

One can assume that ‘monotheism’, whatever the exact meaning given to this relatively recent concept, therefore has a very long history, and extremely old roots.

The intuition of a God of the gods has undoubtedly occupied the minds of men for thousands of years, long before it took on the monotheistic form that we know today.

iRabbi Hayyim de Volozhin. L’âme de la vie

iiMalachie 1, 11

The Transhumance of Humankind

At the last song of Purgatory, Beatrice said to Dante: « Do not speak like a man who dreams anymore ».i If Dante complies with this injunction, the rest of the Divine Comedy can be interpreted as a reference document, as far from the dream as from fiction.

In the immediately following song, which happens to be the first song of Paradise, Dante makes this revelation:

« In the heavens that take most of the light I was, and I saw things that neither knows nor can say again who comes down from above; for when approaching its desire our intellect goes so deep that the memory can no longer follow it there ».ii

Dante didn’t dream, one might think. He really saw what he said he saw « in the heavens », he didn’t make up his visions at all, and he was able to tell us about them after coming down « from up there ».

His memory has kept the memory of light, depth and desire, even if the memory is always behind the spirit that goes, and if it cannot follow it in all conscience, in exceptional, unheard of, unspeakable moments.

Without preparation, the spirit suddenly rises into heavens, sees the light, desires it, sinks into the depths, goes into the abyss.

On the way back, stunned, blinded, without memory, the intelligence begins to doubt what it has seen. Was it only a dream?

In the same song, Dante elliptically explains the true nature of his experience:

« In his contemplation I made myself like Glaucus when he tasted the grass that did it in the sea, the parent of the gods. To go beyond the human cannot be meant by words; that example is enough for those to whom grace reserves experience »iii.

To say « going beyond the human », Dante uses the word trasumanar.

Glaucus’ herb, what was it? Hashish? One of those herbs that are used in shamanic concoctions? Sôma? Haoma?

« Going beyond » implies a disruption. « Overcoming the human being » means leaving humankind behind, leaving it in its supposed state of relative helplessness.

Translated more literally, and playing on the common origin of homo and humus, the word trasumanar could be translated as a sort of ontological, metaphysical « transhumance« .

Like a transhumance out of human nature, an exodus out of inner Egypt, forged by millennia.

This is also the recent dream of « transhumanism ». The accession to a supernatural, a trans-natural, trans-human other state of nature.

The body or soul reaches an extreme point, and with a single pulse they are driven out of themselves, to reach an « Other » state.

Which « Other » state? There are many answers, according to various traditions.

Teilhard de Chardin described this leap towards the Other as a noogenesis.

Akhenaten, Moses, Zoroaster, Hermes, Jesus, Cicero, Nero, Plato, had a brain similar to ours. What did they see that we don’t?

Materialists and skeptics do not believe in visions. Nothing has really changed for thousands of years. But materialism, skepticism, « realism », lack explanatory power, and do not take into account the deep past nor the infinite futures.

Life has evolved since the oyster, the mussel and the sea urchin, and it continues to rise. Where is it going?

The question becomes: when will the next mutation occur? In a few million years? In a few centuries? What will be its form: biological, genetic, psychological? Or all this together? A tiny but decisive genetic mutation, accompanied by a biological transformation and a mental rise, a psychological surge?

The planetary compression is already turning to incandescence. The anthropocene crisis has only just begun. Environmental, societal, political, the crisis is brewing. It remains to mobilize the deep layers of the collective unconscious. There are many warning signs, such as the death drive claimed as such.

The growing forms of an immanent neo-fascism that can already be diagnosed in our times represent a warning.

They indicate the birth of the death drive, the need to bypass the humankind, to leave it behind, perplexed by fears, blinded by false ideas.

Glaucus’s grass, Dante’s trasumanar, will take on other forms from the 21st century onwards. Which ones?

Poetry, the one that reveals, always gives lively leads.

« As the fire that escapes from the cloud, expanding so hard that it no longer holds within itself, and falls to the ground against its nature, so my spirit in this banquet, becoming greater, came out of itself and no longer knows how to remember what it did. »iv

Lightning falls to the ground, and Dante’s spirit rises to heaven. Dante no longer remembers what he does there, but Beatrice guides him in his self-forgetfulness. « Open your eyes, » she said, « look how I am: you have seen things that have given you the power to bear my laughter. »

Dante adds: « I was like a person who feels like a forgotten vision and who strives in vain to remember it. »

I would like to highlight here a crucial relationship between vision, laughter and forgetting. Beatrice’s laughter is difficult to bear. Why? Because this laughter sums up everything Dante has forgotten, and evokes everything he should have seen. This happy laugh of the beloved woman is all she has left. This laughter is also what is necessary to find the thread. Not all the poetry in the world would reach « a thousandth of the truth » of what that « holy laugh » was, Dante adds.

Dense, Dantean laughter. Opaque, obscure. This laughter reopens the eyes and memory.

There are other examples of the power of laughter in history. Homer speaks of the « unquenchable laughter of the gods »v. Nietzsche glosses over Zarathustra’s laughter. There are probably analogies between all these laughter. They burst like lightning without cause.

Dante says, in his own way: « Thus I saw superabundant light, dazzled from above by fiery rays, without seeing the source of the lightning. »

He sees the lightning bolt, but not its source. He sees the laughter, but he has forgotten the reason. He sees the effects, but not the cause.

There is a lesson in this thread: see, forget, laugh. The transhuman must go through this path, and continue beyond it. Laughter is the doorway between memory and the future.

Since his Middle Ages, Dante has warned modernity: « We now preach with jokes and jests, and as long as we laugh well, the hood swells and asks for nothing ».vi

The hood was that of the preachers of the time, the Capuchins.

Nowadays hoods have other forms, and preachers have other ideas. But the jokes and jests continue to fly. And we laugh a lot these days, don’t we?

The transhuman hides away, probably far beyond all these laughter.

i Dante, Purgatory, XXXIII

ii Dante, Paradise, I


iv Dante, Paradise, XXIII

v Iliad I, 599, et Odyssey VIII, 326

vi Dante, Paradise, XXIX

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the dismemberment of Osiris and the crucifixion of Christ

The Rig Veda is without doubt the most sacred text of ancient India.

It has been translated into several Western languages, but with significant differences of interpretation, that may reveal different worldviews, within the West itself.

Focusing here on one of the most fascinating hymns of the Rig Veda (RV, X, 90), dedicated to Puruṣa (i.e. the Man or the Supreme Being, depending on the interpretations), it is interesting, I think, to try to retrieve these points of view, as they are revealed by how they understand the role of the Supreme God’s ‘Sacrifice’.

A. Langlois, the author of the first French translation of Rig Veda in the beginning of 19th century, translates the first two verses of this Hymn, in this manner:

« 1. Pourousha has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. He kneaded the earth with his ten fingers, and formed a ball of it, above which he dominates.

2. Pourousha, master of immortality, strong of the food he takes, has formed what is, what was, what will be. »i

H. H. Wilson, a professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford (1888) translates:

« 1. Purusha, who has a thousand headsii, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet, investing the earth in all directions, exceeds (it by a space) measuring ten fingers.iii

2. Purusha is verily all this (visible world), all that is, and all that is to be; he is also the lord of immortality; for he mounts beyond (his own condition) for the food (of living beings)iv. »

A famous German scholar, active in the first half of 20th century, Karl Friedrich Geldner, proposes:

« 1. Tausendköffig, tausendaügig, tausendfüssig ist Puruṣa; er bedeckte vollständig die Erde und erhob sich noch zehn Finger hoch darüber. »

2. Puruṣa allein ist diese ganze Welt, die vergangene und die zukünftige, und er ist der Herr Unsterblichkeit (und auch über das), was durch Speise noch weiter wächst. »

Finally, here is another translation of the same verses by the famous French Indianist, Louis Renou:

« 1. The Man has a thousand heads. He has a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. Covering the earth from side to side, he still exceeds it with ten fingers.

2. The Man is none other than this universe, what has passed, what is to come. And he is the master of the immortal domain because he grows beyond food.»v

We see that Renou translates the word पुरुष Puruṣa, as « The Man ».

Langlois, Wilson, Geldner, prefer not to translate the word Puruṣa (or Pourousha in the 19th century spelling), but to keep it as a proper name. Why?

Maybe they thought that this word was too ambivalent or too complex to be rendered by an apparently too simple equivalent like « the Man »?

Huet’s dictionary defines Puruṣa as « Man, male, person; hero ». In a philosophical sense, this word means « humanity ». According to Huet, Puruṣa can also be understood like a proper name, and it then translates into: « the Being; the divine spirit; the macrocosm ».

In effect, the spectrum of Puruṣa’s meanings is quite wide.

In Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary, which may be the most complete one that we have in the West, we find the following explanation for Puruṣa: « The primaeval man as the soul and original source of the universe; the personal and animating principle in men and other beings, the soul or spirit; the Supreme Being or Soul of the universe. »

Let us now look at verses 6 and 7, which are rather singular.

Renou translatess:

« 6. When the Gods offered the sacrifice with Man as an oblation, spring served as butter, summer as kindling wood, and autumn as an offering.

7. On the litter, they sprinkled the Man – the Sacrifice – who was born at the beginning. Through him the Gods made the sacrifice, as well as the Saints and the Seers. »

Langlois gives:

« 6. When the Devas with Pourousha sacrificed by offering the offering, the butter formed the spring, the wood the summer, the holocaust the autumn.

7. Pourousha thus born became the Sacrifice, accomplished on the (holy) lawn by the Devas, the Sadhyas and the Richis. »

Wilson has:

« 6. When the gods performed the sacrificevi with Purusha as the offering, then Spring was its ghí, Summer the fuel, and Autumn the oblation.

7. They immolated as the victim upon the sacred grass Purusha, born before (creation); with him the deities were Sadhyasvii and those who were Ṛishis sacrificed. »

Geldner gives:

« 6. Als die Götter mit Puruṣa als Opfergabe das Opfergabe vollzogen, da war der Frühling dessen Schmelzbutter, der Sommer das Brennholz, der Herbst die Opfergabe.

7. Ihn besprenten (weihten) sie als das Opfer auf dem Barhis, den am Anfang geborenen Puruṣa. Diesen brachten die Götter, die Sādhya’s und die Ŗși’s sich zum Opfer. »

One can see here a serious divergence of interpretation of verse 6:

Langlois is the only one to place (ambiguously) Pourousha alongside the Devas, the all of them apparently sacrificing together: « the Devas with Pourousha sacrificed by offering the offering ».

On the contrary, Wilson, Renou, Geldner, present Puruṣa as the very object of sacrifice, the unique (and divine) victim of oblation: « the gods performed the sacrifice with Purusha as the offering » or « the Gods offered the sacrifice with Man as an oblation ».

The verse 7 offers another significant difference of interpretation.

For Langlois, « Pourousha thus born became the Sacrifice », as if his birth happened at this moment, and this « (re-)birth » allowed him to « become the Sacrifice ».

For Wilson, Geldner, Renou, Puruṣa is treated like the very material, the essence of the Sacrifice: « They immolated Purusha as the victim upon the sacred grass ». « On the litter, they sprinkled the Man – the Sacrifice – who was born at the beginning. »

In a recent article discussing the « self sacrifice in Vedic ritual » and commenting the same hymn, one can read these lines about Puruṣa’s sacrifice :

« By immolating the Puruṣa, the primordial being, the gods break up the unchecked expansiveness of his vitality and turn it into the articulated order of life and universe ».viii

By immolating Puruṣa, the primordial Being, the gods break the uncontrolled expansion of its vitality, and transform it into the articulated order of life and the universe.

The same article cites verse 6 as particularly significant: « With sacrifice the gods sacrificed sacrifice, these were the first ordinances « ix

What a strange formula! « With the sacrifice, the gods sacrificed the sacrifice. »

This verse presents itself as an enigma, it is an incentive to research.

Man is the sacrifice. The gods sacrifice Man, and in doing so they « sacrifice the sacrifice. »

What is the meaning of this?

This formulation is irresistibly reminiscent of another divine sacrifice, which happened more than two thousand years after the Rig Veda was composed, — the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, « the Son of Man », in order to save Man.

The similarity of the sacrificial structures suggests the hypothesis of a trans-historical permanence of a trans-cultural « myth » or « paradigm », establishing a sacrificial link between God and Man.

However, it is also interesting to underline that this sacrificial structure (in the Veda and in Christian sacrifice), is the exact opposite to the one represented by the sacrifice that the Biblical God asked Abraham to perform with his son Isaac.

Let’s continue with verses 11, 12, 13, 14

Renou translates:

« When they had dismembered the Man, how did they distribute the shares? What happened to his mouth, what happened to his arms? His thighs, his feet, what name do they get?

His mouth became Brāhman, the Warrior was the product of his arms, his thighs were the Artisan, his feet were born the Servant.

The moon was born from his consciousness, from his gaze the sun was born, from his mouth Indra at Agni, from his breath the wind was born.

The air came out of his belly button, from his head the sky moved, from his feet the earth, from his ear the orients. Thus were the worlds settled. »

Through the magic of metaphors, we seem to move from the Indus Valley to the Nile Valley. These verses of the Rig Veda evoke formulas from the Book of the Dead. The dismemberment of Man is reminiscent of the dismemberment of Osiris.

Plutarch reports that after Osiris’ murder by his brother Seth, the latter tore Osiris’ body into fourteen pieces and dispersed them. « His heart was in Athribis, his neck in Letopolis, his spine in Busiris, his head in Memphis and Abydos. And Plutarch concluded: « Osiris rose again as king and judge of the dead. He bears the title of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Sovereign of the Dead. »

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the killing and dismemberment of Osiris, the crucifixion of Christ and the communion of his Body and Blood, share a deep structural analogy.

It is the idea of a God, primordial, supreme, sacrificed and then dismembered. In India, Egypt and Israel, God is sacrificed on the altar or on the cross, and its « dismemberment » allows universal communion.

iA. Langlois. RV Lecture IV, Section VIII, Hymn V: « 1. Pourousha a mille têtes, mille yeux, mille pieds. Il a pétri la terre de ses dix doigts, et en a formé une boule, au-dessus de laquelle il domine. 2. Pourousha, maître de l’immortalité, fort de la nourriture qu’il prend, a formé ce qui est, ce qui fut, ce qui sera. »

iiWilson comments: « As one with all creatures, Purusha or Viraj may be said to have a thousand, or thousands of heads, eyes, etc., a thousand being put for an infinite number. »

iiiWilson explains in a footnote: « Mahídhara gives the same explanation as Sáyaņa, but adds that it may also mean that the human soul, extending from the navel, takes up its abode in the heart — a doctrine to be found in the Upanishad. Hence Colebrooke renders it ‘stands in the human breast’; compare Burnouf’s version, ‘il occupe dans le corps de l’homme une cavité haute de dix doigts qu’il dépasse encore.’ All, however, that seems intended is that the supreme soul, having animated the universe, is moreover present in man, either in a minute form or of definite dimensions, a doctrine taught in the Upanishads and by the Vedántists. »

ivWilson adds here in a note: « Literally, ‘since he rises beyond by food.’ This may well admit of different explanations. Colebrook has ‘he is that which grows by nourishment’. Muir, ‘that which expands by nourishment.’ Burnouf has, ‘Car c’est lui qui par la nourriture (que prennent les créatures) sort (de l’état de cause) pour se développer (dans le monde)’; which follows Sáyaņa rather closely. Sáyaņa explains annena as práņinám bhogyenánnena nimittabhútena, and lower down adds, ‘Inasmuch as he assumes the condition of the world in order that sentient beings may enjoy the fruit of their acts (práņinám karmaphalabhogáya), that is not his true nature.’ The notion is that the supreme spirit, which in its own state is inert and undiscernible, becomes the visible world, that living beings may reap the fruit of their acts; and inasmuch as they may thereby acquire moksha, or final liberation, the supreme spirit is the lord or distributer of immortality. The word anna, ‘food’, which constitutes the chief difficulty here, is used in the Upanishads in a very vague and mystical sense; see, for example, the Muņḍaka, I. 8 [where it is translated ‘matter’ by Max Müller, Sacred Books of the East, vol. XV, p.28]. »

v In French : « 1. L’Homme a mille têtes. Il a mille yeux, mille pieds. Couvrant la terre de part en part, il la dépasse encore de dix doigts. 2. L’Homme n’est autre que cet univers, ce qui est passé, ce qui est à venir. Et il est le maître du domaine immortel parce qu’il croît au-delà de la nourriture. « 

viAccording to Sáyaņa, the sacrifice here was imaginary, or mental (mánasam).

viiWilson notes: « Sadhya, meaning ‘competent to create’, i.e. Prajápati and the rest ».

viii Cf. Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions (S. Shaked, D. Shulman, G.G. Stroumsa)

ix Cf. Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions (S. Shaked, D. Shulman, G.G. Stroumsa)

The 24-letters Names of God

Apocalyptic and esoteric books have a definite taste for the ‘names’ of God and for His multiple ‘attributes’.

These ‘names’ are supposed to embody aspects of the divine essence.

You might think they are immutable by nature, but human language and human-made names are not immutable, by nature, so the names keep changing.

Philo of Alexandria devoted a whole book (De mutatione nominum) precisely to the question of changing names in the Bible.

Examples abound. Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai is renamed Sarah, and Jacob Israel.

In this book, Philo dealt with the important question of the names that God gave to himself.

About the specific name that God revealed to Moses, « I am that I am » (Ex 3,14), Philo has this comment: « It is equivalent to : my nature is to be, not to be said ».

In the original Hebrew, Ex 3,14 reads: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה « Ehyeh asher ehyeh« .

A literal translation might sound like: « I am who I am », — or « I shall be who I shall be », since « ehyeh » is the 1st person of the present-future of the verb to be, — if we want to somewhat preserve the Hebrew idiosyncrasy of the original text.

We could also simply focus on the word ehyeh that doubly expresses the notion of « Being », in two different modalities: « I am ‘I AM’ « .

We could then assume that God’s name might be ‘I AM’, which may be confirmed by the fact that God also said to Moses, just immediately after:

« Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you. »i

In the Exodus, God clearly affirms a key aspect of his essence through his Name. This essence is « Being ».

In John’s Gospel, another aspect of the essence of God is given: Word, or Logos.

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. »ii

But can this Word be His Name?

It does not seem so, at least if we consider what John quotes about Jesus addressing God:

« I have manifested thy name (onoma) unto the men, which thou gavest me out of the world. Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word (logon). « (John 17, 6).

Clearly, here, the Word (Logos) is not the Name (Onoma).

The Name is ‘manifested’. The Word is ‘kept’.

What does that mean?

The Name embodies the very ‘presence’ of God, it « manifests » his presence.

In many texts, the Hebrew word Shekhina is used to celebrate God’s Presence’.

But the Word is something else entirely. It is neither the Name nor the Presence.

What is it then?

It is what was « in the Beginning », — and what was « with God », — and what was « God ».

More complex, admittedly.

Something else entirely than ‘just a Name’.

Logos is not God’s Name, and Logos is not God’s Shekhina.

Jesus also said to God: « And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name (onoma) whom thou hast given me, so that they may be one, as we are. « (John 17, 11)

According to John’s original text (in Greek), Jesus asked God to « keep » the men through His Name (onoma).

Jesus, who is the Logos (Verb), asks God to « keep » men through His Onoma (His Name).

This indicates that Logos and Onoma play indeed a different role.

What are these different roles?

The Logos « is with God » and « is God ». The Onoma is a ‘Name’ and is not God.

The men « keep » the Logos. The Onoma « keep » the men, « so that they may be one ».

The Logos is said to be « one » with God. The Onoma can make the men be « one »with God.

Though obviously not synonymous, ‘Onoma‘, ‘Logos‘ and ‘God’, are however somewhat converging into ‘oneness’.

Let’s add that any ‘Name’ of God has therefore to be considered to have a formidable power.

Any ‘Name’ of God potentially includes all the other Names, those that are revealed and those that will remain ever hidden.

In all likelihood, Hidden Names abound.

To speak metaphorically, there are as many Names as there are angels, and conversely, each angel « bears » one of God’s Names.

The Babylonian Talmud teaches on this subject: « The Archangel Metatron, who is said to bear the Name of God » (« Metatron che-chemo ke-chem rabbo) » (Sanhedrin 38b).

All these (infinite) Names are not just names.They are divine beings, or rather they are figures of the divine Being.

A text belonging to the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the « Gospel of Truth », composed by Valentine in the 2nd century, specifies it in this way:

« The Name of the Father is the Son. It is He who, in the Principle, gave name to the one who came out of Him, who was Himself and begot Him as Son. He gave Him his own name. (…) The Father. He has the Name, He has the Son. We can see him. But the Name, on the contrary, is invisible, because it alone is the mystery of the Invisible destined to reach the ears which are all filled with it (…) This Name does not belong to words and it is not names that constitute its Name. He’s invisible.»iii

The same idea is expressed in a slightly different way in the Gospel of Philip, also from the Nag Hammadi manuscripts: »‘Jesus‘ is a hidden name, ‘Christ‘ is a manifested name »iv.

But if ‘Jesus’ is a hidden name, how can he be known?

Irenaeus of Lyons gives a possible answer: « Iesous is only the sound of the Name, not its virtue. In fact, the entire Name consists of not only six letters, but thirty. Its exoteric (or pronounceable) composition is IHCOYC [Iesous], while its esoteric composition consists of twenty-four letters.»v

The exoteric name IHCOYC consists of six Greek letters. The full Name contains thirty of them.

Simple arithmetic: 6 (exoteric letters) + 24 (esoteric letters) = 30 letters of the full Name

But Irenaeus of Lyons does not reveal what are the 24 esoteric letters. if he had done so, would they have stayed ‘esoteric’?

It is up to us then, to try figuring them out.

Knowing that the Greek alphabet includes precisely twenty-four letters, the first one being ‘alpha’, the last one being ‘omega’, we could imagine that this esoteric Name is not a fixed name, but that it is constantly woven from the infinity of all their possible combinations, like this one:


or this one:


There 2424 such names…

Here is a selection of names that I like a lot:






and :




We could also try with Hebraic letters such as:






and :


A lot of research ahead of us!

iEx 3,14

iiJn 1,1

iii Quoted by Guy Stroumsa, Ancient Christian Magic : Coptic Texts of Ritual Power. Princeton, 1993.

iv Gospel of Philip 58, 3-4

vIreaneus of Lyons .Adv. Heres.I. 14, 1-9. Trad. A. Rousseau. 1979

The Black God

Alphonse Constant, aka Eliphas Levi, gave a precise description of the « mysteries of Eleusis », of which this is the final scene:

« When the initiate had triumphed through all the trials, when he had seen and touched the holy things, if he was judged strong enough to bear the last and most terrible of all the secrets, a veiled priest came running towards him, and threw this enigmatic word into his ear: ‘Osiris is a black God’. Words darker and brighter than jet! »

André Breton, in his book Arcane 17, quotes these same words, ‘Osiris is a black God’, which he describes as a « magic formula » that « works ».

« So, every time an association of ideas treacherously brings you back to that point where, for you, all hope one day has been denied and, from the highest point you then hold, threatens, soaring in search of the wing, to rush you back into the abyss, testing myself the vanity of every word of consolation and holding any attempt at diversion as unworthy, have I convinced myself that only a magic formula here could work, but what formula could condense in it and instantly restore to you all the strength to live, to live with all the intensity possible, when I know that it had returned to you so slowly? The one I decide to stick to, the only one by which I find it acceptable to remind you to me when you suddenly lean towards the other side, is in those words of which, when you start turning your head away, I just want to touch your ear: « Osiris is a black God ». »

What is actually behind the name of this « magic », and whose help Breton invokes?

What do these words really mean: « Osiris is a black God »?

Anubis, funerary god, reigning over the necropolises, one of Egypt’s oldest deities, dates back to the pre-dynastic period, more than 5500 years ago. Anubis is usually represented as a large black canid. Is it a wolf? A jackal? A wild dog?

Being a hybrid, it has the ears of a fox, the tail and head of a jackal, and the silhouette of a greyhound.

Anubis is the adulterous son of Osiris, according to the version of the myth transmitted by Plutarch in his Isis and Osiris.

« Osiris rose again as king and judge of the dead. He bears the title of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Sovereign of the Dead. »

In some manuscripts Osiris is also represented with a black face.

It can be noted that the cruel death of Osiris murdered by his brother Seth, the dismemberment of his body and his resurrection are irresistibly reminiscent of an analogy, at least in form, between the faith of the ancient Egyptians and the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in Christianity.

But why a « Black God »?

I propose the following down-to-earth explanation.

The flooding of the Nile (in its part called the « white » Nile) brought a black silt each year, allowing to cultivate its banks.

In those days, this phenomenon remained mysterious and unexplained for a long time.

It is from this black silt that Egypt’s ancient name, Kemet, comes from, which means « the black land », that is, the « arable land ».

Osiris is a « Black God » because he brings life, every year, covering land with black silt.

The three colours of the Egyptian flag, black, white and red, still bear witness to this mythical belief long after. These three colours are a reference, respectively, to Osiris, Isis and Set, Osiris being the black God, Isis the white goddess, and Set, bound to the desert, being symbolized by red.

Black is the colour of life, of eternal life.

Brief Comments on Ten God’s Names

Paulus Ricius, also known as Paulus Israelita, was a humanist and Kabbalist of Jewish origin, converted to Christianity in 1505. He is known for his contributions to « Christian Hebraism » and for his refutation of Jewish arguments against Christianity through Kabbalah. He was one of the architects of the ‘Christian Kabbalah’ . His work Sha’arei Orah – in Latin Portae lucis, the « Gates of Light », was a source of inspiration for comparable projects initiated by scholars such as Conrad Pellicanus or Guillaume Postel.

By consulting Ricius’ Artis Cabalisticae – Hoc est reconditae theologiae et philosophiae scriptorum (1587), as well as De Arcana Dei Providentia and Portae lucis, I found a list of ten names of God that is worth studying.

1. אדנּי Adonai – The Lord

2. אל חי El Hay – The One who Lives

3. Elohim Zabaoth – The God of the Armies

4. Adonai Zabaoth – The Lord of the Armies

5. יהוה YHVH – Yahweh

6. אלהים Elohim – God (literally: The Gods)

7. אל El – God

8. יהֹוִה The YHVH Tetragram, with Elohim’s vocalization:YeHoViH

9. יה Ioh – First and last letter from YHVH

10. אהיה Ehieh – « I am »

The order of these ten names of God is relatively (but not entirely) arbitrary. No hierarchy is possible or relevant in such a matter, one may assume. Let us note that Guillaume Postel, Thomas Aquinas and Paulus Ricius (and many other specialists) offered very different views on the Names to be retained and listed.

As a matter of principle, God’s Names should be considered to have equal value or status.

However, that does not mean that these Names convey the same meaning, the same weight or have the same value.

Almost two centuries after Ricius, Leibniz proposed thirteen names of God, based on God’s own statement to Moses in Ex. 34:6-7 (as already discussed in my blog The other Other) .

It is interesting, I think, to compare Ricius’ list and Leibniz’ one, with their differences, additions, and yawning gaps.

While comparing and weighing both approaches, one has to remember that the count made by Leibniz is indeed arbitrary, and the base for his reasoning quite fragile, though intellectually stimulating.

There is no certainty either that Paulus Ricius’ version of the ten Names may be more accurate.

We should not be too shy entering this field of questioning, either. What is here at stake is to look for some kind of heuristics, akin to serendipity, to help us, poor humans, in mapping our way around a very difficult subject.

For that matter, it may seem relevant to analyze the relationship between the ten names of God and the ten Sefirot, which are divine emanations.

Here is the list of Sefirot as declined in Latin by Paulus Ricius:

Corona. Prudentia. Sapientia. Pulchritudo. Fortitudo. Magnificentia. Fundamentum. Confessio. Victoria. Regnum.

The Hebrew names of Sefirot quoted in the Kabbalah are the following:

Keter (crown), Hokhma (wisdom), Bina (understanding), Hessed (mercy), Gevurah (discipline), Tiferet (beauty), Netzah (victory), Hod (splendour), Yesod (foundation), Malkuth (kingship).

The Sefirot names are organized in a figure, which evokes a kind of human body, very schematic, with corona for head, sapientia and prudentia as two eyes or two ears, fortitudo and magnificentia for both arms, pulchritudo for heart, confessio and victoria for both legs, fundamentum for ‘foundation’ (euphemism for anus) and regnum for sex.

It is certainly worth trying to meditate on possible equivalences or connections between the Sefirot and the ten Names of God, looking for analogies or anagogies :

CoronaKeter may be linked to ‘Adonai’. The Lord wears the only crownthat be. However, who anointed Him? And what this crown is made of? Gold or thorns?

PrudentiaBina may be linked to ‘YHVH’. God is prudent, and understanding. This is why He did not reveal the meaning of His Name, nor its vocalization.

SapientiaHokhma may be linked to ‘El Hay’. Wisdom is always alive in God.

PulchritudoTiferet may be linked to ‘Elohim’. The Scriptures mentions the beauty of the three Men ‘who were God’, meeting Abraham under the oak of Mamre.

FortitudoGevurah may be linked to ‘Adonai Zabaoth’. The ‘Lord of the Armies’ incarnates the essence of forceand discipline.

MagnificentiaHod may be linked to ‘Elohim Zabaoth’. How could the ‘God of the Hosts’ not embody magnificence in all its glory?

FundamentumYesod may be linked to ‘Ioh’. The Name Ioh incarnates the foundation of divinity, with its two fundamental letters.

ConfessioHessed may be linked to ‘Yehovih’. How can you get mercy without at least requesting it, by confessing your sins? The Tetragram YHVH intertwined with the vowels of Elohim is analogous to mercy penetrating the heart.

VictoriaNetzah may be linked to ‘El’. Only El, at the end of times, — or at the ‘extreme’ summit of His eternity –, will be victorious.

RegnumMalkuth may be linked to ‘Ehieh’. By saying « I am whom I will be », God establishes His reign once for all, for the present and the future.

Of course Kabbalah literature is rich in temptatives to link the sefirot to different Names of God.

For instance, just to give a glimpse of possible, acceptable, variations on the same theme, one may quote the following series of associations, that I found in the online literature on the subject.

I would like to note in passing that, after having forged the associations listed above, I discovered that two associations (out of ten) were similar in the list quoted below. I mention this only to show the power (and the limitations) of heuristic serendipity in this obscure arcane.

RegnumMalkuth linked to Adonaï ha Aretz, The Lord of the Earth.

FundamentumYesod linked to ‘Shaddaï El Haï (The Omnipotent Living God).

Magnificentia – Hod linked to Elohim Zabaoth (The God of Armies), — like we did (see above).

VictoriaNetzah linked to ‘YHVH Zabaoth (YHVH of the Hosts).

PulchritudoTiferet linked to ‘Aloah‘ (The Divinity).

FortitudoGevurah linked to ‘Elohim Gibor’ (The Strong God).

ConfessioHessed linked to ‘El‘ (God).

PrudentiaBina linked to ‘YHVH‘, — just like we did (see above).

SapientiaHokhma linked to ‘Iah‘ (another vocalization of the short Name ‘YH’)

CoronaKeter linked to ‘Eyeh‘ (‘I am’).

What can we learn from this sort of exercise?

We learn that all divine Names are ‘ living’ metaphors, which means that they ‘live’ and the may ‘die’.

But all these metaphors, in a way, are also (metaphorically) ‘gravid’, ‘pregnant’ with other, unheard of, new Names, yet to be born out of the most profound depths of language and of our souls.

The Metaphysics of the Lotus

In Biblical Hebrew, some letters of the alphabet can be swapped, i. e. replaced by phonetically close letters.

For example, the ninth letter, Teth, ט, corresponds to the t of the Latin alphabet. Teth means « snake » because of its shape. This letter can be switched with the sibilant ז (z) or צ (ts), and with the letter Taw, ת (th), which is the 22nd and last letter of the alphabet, and which means « writing sign ».

Permutation allows word games, which then generate other word games, giving rise to new meanings or altering those already known.

Let’s give an example.

The word תֵּבֵב, tevah, means « box », but also « ark ».

Noah built a tevah out of gopher wood (Gen 6:14).

And it was in a rush tevah that Moses, a newborn child, was placed (Ex. 2:3).

With the letter צ (ts), tevah gives tsavah, צָבָה, « to gather to fight », and again « to swell up ».

Noah’s Ark, by a slight shift of meaning, can thus embody a general assembly of the life forces fighting the flood. It also evokes a kind of belly that swells, as living beings destined to be saved penetrate into it…

By switching with the letters ז (z) and ט (t) things get tricky. The verb טָבַח tavaha has the meaning « to sacrifice, to kill cattle ». The word טַבָּח tabah means « the one who kills ». The verb זָבַח, zavaha, means « to cut, immolate, sacrifice » and the word זָבַח tavah: « victim, sacrifice ».

By simple permutation, the ark then evokes a huge oblation. We know now that this whole noachical affair turned out well. But the ark could have been shipwrecked. It would have been a disaster, the ultimate sacrifice: all the eggs of life in the same wooden basket.

We can also cut the last and weak letter of the word, ה. Then we get טָב, tav, « good », as in טָבְ אֵל « God is good ».

A rich assortment of meanings, convergent or contrary, through the magic of permutations. Language conducive to innuendoes, or even misunderstandings, depending on the attention, acuity available.

In Latin, it is the word arca that is supposed to translate tevah, and which gave in French « arche ». Arca means first of all « chest, wardrobe ». Hence the adjective arcanus, « hidden, secret », and the name arcanum, « secret », which is found with the French « arcane ».

Arca also means « coffin, prison, cell, cistern, tank ». But, strangely enough, it never means « ark ».

Arca refers to the verb arceo, « to contain, to confine, to retain ». But also: « to keep away, to divert, to spread ». This double meaning can well apply to Noah’s Ark.

Coerceo means « to contain, to repress ». Exerceo: « to tame, to exercise ». The adjective arctus, « locked, tightened, tightened » is part of the same family as is the verb arto, « tighten, press, reduce ».

« The world encloses (coercet) and encloses everything with its embrace (complexus) » said Ciceroi. Complexus is embracing, kissing, embracing. This word means ‘struggle’ as well as ‘love’, the hand-to-hand combat and the carnal embrace.

For anyone interested in the mysteries of the world, it is useful to start with the words that carry them, hide them and transport them.

These words are also like an arch, an arch of meaning, floating and precarious, through the flood of nonsense, or sometimes, a prison or a tomb.

To translate Tevah, the Septuagint translators chose to take a Greek word borrowed itself from Egyptian. They translated tevah by the word κιϐωτός, « cash register, box ». This word refers to κιϐώριον: « water lily flower », but also « cup », and even « tomb ». The word « ciborium » comes from there.

The word chosen by the Septuagint to embody both Noah’s Ark, the cradle of Moses and the Ark of the Covenant, then comes from a very ancient botanical and religious metaphor, the lotus flower (the « Egyptian water lily »).

The seeds of the sacred lotus hold the record for longevity (dormancy). A team of researchers successfully germinated a seed about 1,300 years old from the dry bed of an ancient lake in China.

Some words also germinate long after their dormancy.

In ancient Egypt (3500 BC), the lotus was a symbol of the creation of the world and an allegory of rebirth after death. The lotus flower was worthy to be offered to the God who had overcome death, Osiris.

In India, and also in China, the lotus is considered worthy of offering to the gods.

The lotus grows in the mud, which feeds it. It does not float on the water like the water lily, it emerges clearly out of the water. That is why it is an allegory of the resurrection.

The tevah floats on the flood. The lotus stands really above the water.

Times are changing. We now need a new Noah, and a new ark. This new ark will not just be a tevah (i.e. a big box). It will not just help a (very limited) subset of mankind to « float » in order to survive, like the old Noah’s Ark did.

This new ark will be more like a lotus, and it will help raise all of mankind above the water, like a wind of God did, a long time ago…

i « Mundus omnia complexu suo coercet et continet » (Nat. 2, 48).

How to Start Fighting the Looming Global Civil War

There are words that are almost completely untranslatable from one language to another.

To give an idea of their meaning, they may require the mediation of several metaphors, and an accumulation of approximations. These words cannot travel easily.

Is it then wiser to let them marinate in their own juice?

Take as an example the Sanskrit word tajjalān in this text of Chāndogya-upaniṣad:

« In reality Brahman is all this. Whoever is appeased must worship it as tajjalān. »i

Sanskrit scholars suggest that the word tajjalān can be broken down into four syllables: tad + ja + la + an ii.

Each syllable embodies a symbolic meaning, related to a Brahman attribute.

Thus the world is tajja: « That – begotten ». Tajja is formed by the assimilation of tad « that » and ja which is related to the root JAN « to be born, to produce ».

But the world is also talla: « That – attached and dissolved » [tad + la = talla], where the root of la is LĪ, as used in words like liyate, « attach » and layate, « dissolve ».

Talla and tajja are then two opposing processes, of « birth » and « dissolution ».

Finally the world is tadana: « That which breathes and lives in it »[tad + an + a], where an has as its root AN « to breathe, to live ».

The word tajjalān thus describes in a dense, concentrated way, the world as having three states (engendering, dissolution, life/breathing), identified with the essence of Brahman.

Through the ambivalence of the root LĪ, the word also evokes the world’s attachment to Brahman, excluding any idea of separation.

One word, four ideas.

If we tried to give a kind of equivalent of tajjalān in English, we could perhaps propose a concatenated series of words like « That-born-dissolved-linked-alive »…

Let’s generalize.

If certain essential words of a particular civilization have no plausible equivalents in another culture, one could conclude that the world of ideas, religions and cultures is fundamentally fragmented, divided into more or less autistic provinces, keeping before them their idiosyncrasies, secret gardens, intimate grammars, gods and codes.

And this would be an argument to highlight the difficulty of a unified conception of humanity.

However, the hypothesis of the looming Balkanization of ideas and cultures does not necessarily exclude other possibilities, such as the idea that man can be defined by a unique ‘essence’.

For example, the Aristotelian idea that « man is a rational animal » could be entirely compatible with the reality of a Balkanized world.

Idea and reality would only be juxtaposed, circulating in two orbits of meaning not intended to meet, and able to ignore each other royally, for a long time to come.

Nor does the idea of an « essence » of man mean that humanity does not conceal, in its thicknesses, in its depths, in its past or in its future, immense and impenetrable areas of darkness, which no « essence » can define.

It is quite possible that Plato’s Ideas, or Aristotle’s reason, may coexist with a world deprived of meaning and internal cohesion, even if in theory this seems to be incompatible, or contradictory.

It is possible that, if translated otherwise, into a language that perhaps does not yet exist, or will never exist, these ideas would then no longer be contradictory, but would appear obviously compatible, and even necessary.

At this stage, it can already be argued that the hypothesis of a humanity less one than divided, less transparent than obscure, less communicative than hostile is completely compatible with the exactly opposite hypothesis, because it is obvious that so much everything is already mobile, diverse, evolving in a world that is both one and multiple.

Anthropology lets us know of the existence of tribal or religious groups, which are defined by exclusion. These tribes or groups decree the principle of their metaphysical separation from the rest of humanity.

They may draw a feeling of absolute singularity from a « principle », revealed only to them, in their own language, or following a « decision », communicated only to them, from a « God » who would only be « their » God.

However, the very idea of religious or ideological exclusion of entire segments of humanity is neither new nor reserved for specific cultures. Paradoxically, it is in fact quite commonplace.

The ideas of exclusion, separation, ostracism, seem as constitutive of the human essence as the opposite ideas, that of union, unity, community, society.

There are « first » tribes that only call themselves « men » in their language, implying that all those who are not of their tribe, all the rest of men, are not really human.

What the genius of these languages of exclusion has been able to do, symbolically, genetic engineering to modify the human genome can do, really, and on a large scale.

The dream of a « trans-humanity », capable of genetically and neurologically modifying itself, and thus gaining access to a completely unthinkable mutation of the human race, is no longer a distant utopia.

This tangible dream is there to remind us of the burning relevance of a project of an « exodus » reserved for a privileged subset of humanity outside human contingencies.

For the time being, this « exodus » seems to be only of an economic, fiscal or political nature, but it could soon become genetic, neural, anatomical and one day perhaps biological.

The Hollywood myth of a planetary « exodus », of a flight of a few mutants from a polluted Earth, irradiated and deeply scarred by a world civil war, is in everyone’s mind.

The general Balkanization and the bantustans imposed by all kinds of apartheids will be the first step.

In such a case, scholarly debates on words « almost untranslatable » would then be very derisory, very useless.

Those who then correctly pronounce the shibboleth of the day will be able to board the interstellar shuttle or take part in the meta-genetic adventure of trans-humanity.

All the others will be condemned to remain in the earthly hell.

While waiting for this perspective, closer than we may want to believe, we must affirm that words count, that they are semaphores.

It is really worth studying the « untranslatable » words, because they are like symptoms, verbal clues to the global separation, the progressive cultural and religious dislocation, in the making.

And it is worth trying to translate these « untranslatable » words, if we do not want a global civil war to happen some day.

i CU 3.14.1

iiCf. Les Upaniad.Trad. A. Degrâces. 2014, p.128

The descent into immanence

The verb ירד, yarada, is one of those paradoxical, surprising, mysterious words in the literature of the Hekhalot (« the Palaces »), which deals with celestial ascents and descents. Its first meaning is « to descend », but there are several derived meanings: « to fall, to forfeit, to perish, to be ruined », or to « to slaughter, to humiliate, to precipitate ». It is mainly used to describe the different « descents », « falls », « lapses » or « humiliations » related to the human condition.

The paradox appears when the same verb is also used to describe theophanies, which are therefore somehow assimilated, by contiguity, to their exact opposite: the fall.

A brief collection of uses of this word (yarada) will make the spectrum shine through.

« Abram went down to Egypt ».i

« She went down to the fountain » (Gen. 24:16).

« Moses came down from the mountain » (Ex. 19:14 or Ex. 34:29).

« My beloved has gone down into his garden » (Cant. 6,2).

« He will descend like rain on the cut grass » (Ps. 72:6).

This verb is also used metaphorically:

« Everyone weeps » (Is 15:5). « 

The day was falling » (Jug. 19:11).

« Those who sail by sea » (Ps. 107:23).

It applies to death:

« Like those who go down to the grave » (Prov. 1:12).

« Let them go down alive into the hell » (Ps. 55:16).

The word can take the meaning of « forfeiture »:

« You will always forfeit lower and lower » (Deut. 28:43).

Finally, there is the application of this verb to theophanies, to forms of divine apparitions.

« The Lord will descend in the sight of the whole people on Mount Sinai » (Ex. 19:11).

« Sinai Mountain was all smoking because the Lord had descended into it in the heart of the flame » (Ex. 18:18).

« The column of cloud descended, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and God spoke with Moses.  » (Ex. 33,9).

« The Lord came down to the earth to see the city and the tower » (Gen. 11:5).

« I will come down and speak to you, and I will remove part of the spirit that is on you and rest it on them » (Nb. 1:17).

« He tilts the heavens and descends; under his feet, a thick mist » (2 S. 22:10). « 

Ah! May you tear the heavens apart and come down!  » (Is 63:19).

« Thou wentest down and the mountains staggered » (Is 64:2)

« The Lord Zebaoth will come down to war on Mount Zion and its heights.  » (Is. 31:4)

In all cases where God descends into the world, He keeps, let us note, a certain height, or a certain distance. He goes down just low enough to be « in sight of the people », but no lower. He goes down to the mountain, but « within a flame ». He descends to the Tent, but remains « in a cloud ». He descends from the heavens, but « a thick fog » remains under His feet. He descends to Moses, but only at the distance necessary to talk to him. He descends to Mount Zion, but remains on the « heights ».

What does that show?

First, a verb including the ideas of descent, fall, decay, ruin, humiliation, can, as we see, be applied (metaphorically) to God. Each of the theophanies can be interpreted, from the point of view not of man, but of God, as a kind of « descent » and perhaps of « fall ». It’s a strong idea.

Then, as noted, the descents described in the texts cited always keep a certain distance, a reserve. God descends, but only to a certain extent.

Finally, the idea of God’s descent is never associated with the idea of his ascent. There is of course the case of Jacob’s dream. But then it was « the divine messengers » who « went up and down the ladder » (Gen. 28:12). As for Him, « the Lord appeared at the top » (Gen. 28:13), very far away then.

What can we conclude from this?

God can « come down », the texts say. The same texts never say that He « goes up », after having gone down.

This is a strong argument, it seems to me, to associate divine transcendence with a persistent, paradoxical immanence.

i Gen 12,10

The other ‘Other’

In his Observations on Rabbi Moses Maimonides’ book entitled The Guide for the Perplexedi Leibniz refers to two other « Tetragrams », one of twelve letters and the other of forty-two. But he remains elliptical on how a four-letter Tetragram, to put it pleonastically, can expand like this into many more letters.

Leibniz also indicates that Moses received « thirteen prophecies » from Godii. Here is the detail of this revelation, reported in the Exodus, and quoted in full.

« The Lord passed before him and shouted: ‘The Lord, the Lord, God of tenderness and mercy, slow to anger, rich in grace and faithfulness, who keeps his grace to thousands, tolerates fault, transgression and sin, but leaves nothing unpunished, and punishes the sins of fathers on children and grandchildren until the third and fourth generation!’ »iii

So Leibniz’ idea is that there are thirteen prophecies densely concentrated in these two verses. One may conjecture that each ‘prophecy’ seems to be associated with one specific word.

Here they are, as far as I can reconstruct them:

The first ‘prophecy’ is: « YHVH (יהוה) ».

The second one: « YHVH (יהוה) ».

The third: « God » (אל).

The fourth: « Clement » (רחום).

The fifth: « Merciful » (חנון).

The sixth: « Slow to anger (אפים) ».

The seventh: « Full (or rich, רב) » – more precisely, « rich in goodness (חסד) and truth (אמת) ».

The eighth: « He keeps his kindness (or favor, חסד) to thousands ».

The ninth: « He tolerates fault (or crime, עון) ».

The tenth: « And the transgression (or rebellion, פשע) ».

The eleventh: « And sin (חטאה) ».

The twelfth « But he leaves nothing unpunished (לא ינקה) ».

The thirteenth: « And he punishes the sins (עון) of the fathers on the children and on the little children ».

Observations are required, from a critical and heuristic point of view.

First of all, we count as two separate and distinct prophecies, the two statements that Yahweh makes of the name YHVH, and as a third the name EL.

Then each attribute (clement, merciful, slow, full) is counted as a prophecy.

There is the special case of « full of goodness and truth », which is counted as a prophecy. Why not count two? Because the adjective « full » is mentioned only once, and because God wants to make it clear that « goodness » and « truth » are inseparable, and must be counted as « one ».

For the verb « he keeps », let us count a prophecy, since God only keeps his goodness.

For the verb « he tolerates », let us count three prophecies, since God tolerates fault, rebellion and sin.

Finally, let us count two prophecies that refer to punishment.

Then, let us note that God cries out twice his name YHVH, but once his name EL.

He shouts four of his attributes, then he shouts four verbs. The first, to keep, applies to only one thing, kindness, but for the benefit of thousands. The second, to tolerate, applies to three negative things. The third, to leave, is used in a negative, therefore absolute, total way. The fourth, to punish, applies over four generations.

It is surely worth noting that three words are quoted twice: « YHVH », « goodness », and « fault », and that one word is quoted three times in the last verse: « the sons ».

There are also questions about some apparent inconsistencies:

God « tolerates fault » but « he leaves nothing unpunished », which seems contradictory.

Moreover, « he punishes the sins of the fathers on the sons and the sons of the sons », which seems unfair.

Let’s take a closer look at this last point, referring to the dictionary. The verb « to punish«  is in the original Hebrew: פקד. This word has a very rich palette of meanings. Here are some of them: « to seek, to visit, to examine, to remember, to punish, to avenge, to lack something, to deprive, to entrust something to the care of another ».

This verb can be translated to mean that God wants to « punish » and « chastise » children and grandchildren for their fathers’ faults, as it is written:

« And he punishes the sins (עון) of the fathers on the children and on the little children ».

But one could also opt for a broader, more generous translation or interpretation of פקד :

« And he seeks, or he examines, or he remembers, or he entrusts the care the sins of a generation to the care of another. »

Another what? Another generation?

Or might it be another ‘Other’?

Who, then, might be this other « Other » to whom God entrusts the care of future generations?

i Observations de Leibniz sur le livre du Rabbin Moïse Maïmonide intitulé le Guide des Égarés § C62

ii Ibid. § C54

iiiEx. 34,6-7

The power of whisper

« But among the humble is wisdom. » i.

In Hebrew, the word « humble » derives from the verb צָנַע, to hide, to humiliate oneself. A more literal translation might then be possible: « But among those who hide is wisdom. »

The humble are hiding. So is wisdom, hiding.

The idea of hidden wisdom is old. It is found in many religious, exoteric or esoteric traditions.

« I speak to you, O Nacitekas, heavenly Agni, who knows how to obtain the endless worlds and the sojourn. O thou, know it, [this wisdom] is deposited in a secret place. » ii

The secret is first and foremost a “place”. And wisdom also is a “place”.

Going to this secret “place” is akin to a “revelation”. To penetrate the divine secret is to penetrate this divine place, and to plunge into the abyss. When you enter it, you lose all balance, all connection, you leave everything to go beyond the human.

« When he meditated, applying himself, on the union with the supreme soul, on the God who is difficult to perceive, who has penetrated into the secret, who has settled in the hiding place, who resides in the abyss, – the wise leaves aside joy and sorrow. » iii

Not everyone can imitate the wise man. The Holy of Holies is a very empty, solitary, place.

If the revelation reveals anything, it is that nothing sheds light on the mystery. It only deepens it without measure, always more so.

Abrahamic, Mosaic or Christian “revelations” are in a way an “unveiling”. But this unveiling brings in reality many new veils, many questions, throwing inconceivable, unexpected perspectives.

Among them: any divine revelation threatens the state of things and life itself. How many prophets stoned or crucified for sharing their vision? Death is the companion of their truth.

R. Isaac of Acra comments: « When Moses our master said: « Show me your glory » (Ex. 33:18), it is death that he asked for, so that his soul may break the light of his palace, which separates him from the wonderful divine light, which she was eager to contemplate ».

The union with the Divine presents an extraordinary challenge: death.

Elsewhere, in other traditions, it is called dissolution. It is compared to a drop of water in the sea. « As pure water poured into pure water becomes like it, the soul of the discerning wise man becomes like Brahman.»iv

The same image can be found in the Jewish Kabbalah: « The soul will cling to the divine Intellect and the intellect will cling to the soul (…) And the soul and the Intellect become the same thing, as when a jug of water is poured into a gushing spring. This is therefore the secret of the verse: ‘A fire that devours fire’. » (R. Isaac of Acra).

A drop of water in the spring. A fire that devours the fire. Wisdom is well hidden. Why is she concealing herself, shying away from glory, from revelation?

A passage from Paul can put us on the track. « Should we boast? It’s not worth anything, though. (…) For me, I will only boast of my weaknesses.» v

An « angel of Satan » is in charge of blowing Paul so that he does not take pride. If Paul asks God to remove this satanic angel from him, God answers: « My grace is enough for you; for power unfolds in weakness.» So the blows continue.

And Paul concludes: « That is why I take pleasure in weaknesses, in outrages, in distress, in persecutions and anguish endured for Christ: for when I am weak, it is then that I am strong ».vi

It is strange (and maybe inaudible) in our modern times, to hear that weakness, distress, persecution,, may be a « strength ».

Strength and power in effect veil and muffle everything. In the noisy storm, in the midst of the devastating hurricane, only the humble, the wise, have a little chance of hearing the zephyr, which will follow, in a whisper.


iiKatha Upanisad 1,14

iiiKatha Upanisad 2,12.

ivKatha Upanisad 4,15

v2 Cor. 12,1-10

vi2 Cor. 12,1-10

The Metaphors of Monotheism in India, Israel and the West

The philosopher must travel among the nations, following the example of Pythagoras.

« Pythagoras went to Babylon, Egypt, all over Persia, learning from the Magi and priests; it is reported that he also got along with the Brahmins. »i

No people, no culture, no religion has a monopoly on knowledge. Under the appearance of their multiplicities, we must seek a deeper, original unity.

In the Vedas, Agni is « God of Fire ». Fire is an image. It’s only one of his names. Agni is the Divine in many other aspects, which its names designate: « Agni, you are Indra, the dispenser of good; you are the adorable Viṣṇu, praised by many; you are Brahmānaspati… you are all wisdom. Agni you are the royal Varuṇa, observer of the sacred vows, you are the adorable Mitra, the destroyer. »

Agni embodies the infinite multiplicity and profound unity of the Divine. Agni is in the same time innumerable, and the only God.

The religion of the Vedas has the appearance of a polytheism, through the myriadic accumulation of God’s names. But it is also a monotheism in its essential intuition.

The Vedas sing, chant, invoke and cry out the Divine, – in all its forms. This Divine is always Word, – in all its forms. « By the Song and beside it, he produces the Cry; by the Cry, the Hymn; by means of the triple invocation, the Word. »ii

Agni is the divine Fire, which illuminates, it is also the libation of the Soma, which crackles. He is one, and the other, and their union. Through Sacrifice, Fire and Soma unite. Fire and Soma contribute to their union, this union of which Agni is the divine name.

The same questions are still running through humanity.

« Where is the breath, the blood, the breath of the earth? Who went to ask who knows? « asks Ṛg Veda.iii

Later, and further west, the Lord asked Job: « Where were you when I founded the earth? Speak if your knowledge is enlightened. Who set the measures, would you know, or who stretched the line on her? (…) Tell us, if you know all this. On which side does the light dwell, and where does the darkness dwell? » iv

There is an instinctive familiarity, a brotherhood of tone, an intuitive resemblance, between a thousand years apart.

The ancient Hebrews, dedicated to the intuition of the One, also sought and celebrated His various names. Is this not analogy with the multiple names and Vedic attributes of the Divinity, whose essence is unique?

When God « shouts » three times his name to Moses’ address « YHVH, YHVH, EL » (יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל), there is one God who pronounces a triple Name. Three screams for three names. What does the first YHVH say? What does the second YHVH mean? What does the third name, EL, express?

Christianity will respond a thousand years after Moses to these questions with other metaphors (the Father, the Son, the Spirit).

A thousand years before Moses, verses from Ṛg Veda already evoked the three divine names of a single God: « Three Hairy shines in turn: one sows itself in the Saṃvatsara; one considers the Whole by means of the Powers; and another one sees the crossing, but not the color. »v

The three « Hairy » are in fact the only God, Agni, whose hair is of

The first « Hairy » is sown in the Soma, as a primordial, unborn germ. The second « Hairy » considers the Whole thanks to the Soma, which contains the powers and forces. The third « Hairy » is the dark being of Agni (the Agni « aja », – « unborn »), a darkness that God « passes through » when he passes from the dark to the bright, from night to light.

For the poet’s eye and ear, this ‘triplicity’ is not a coincidence. Millennia pass, ideas remain. Agni spreads the fire of his bushy and shiny « hair » three times, to signify his creative power, wisdom and revelation. From the burning bush, Yahweh shouts his three names to Moses to make sure he is heard.

The figure of a God « one » who shows Himself as a « three », seems to be an anthropological constant. The same strange, contradictory and fundamental metaphor links Aryan and Vedic India, Semitic and Jewish Israel, and Greek-Latin and Christian West.

iEusèbe de Césarée. Préparation évangélique, 4,15

iiṚg Veda I, 164,24.

iiiṚg Veda I, 164,4.

ivJob, 38, 4-19

vṚg Veda I, 164,44.

viOne of the attributes of Apollo, Xantokomès (Ξανθόκομης), also makes him a God« with « fire-red hair »

The testicles of Kabbalah

The word « testicle », כליות (khiliot), appears in the Kabbalah Denudata, by Joannis Davidis Zunnerii. Its Latin equivalents are renes and testiculis. The word renes, « kidneys », also has the meaning of « testicles » in some contexts. As an example, Zunneri cites Job’s book: « Quis posuis in renibus (testiculis) sapientiam? ». « Who put wisdom in the kidneys (testicles)? »ii

Curiously, the word כליות (khiliot) does not actually appear in this verse. In its place is the word טּחוֺת (tuhôt) which has a rather similar, though different meaning: « The bottom of being, what is covered, what is hidden, what is hidden, lumps, kidneys ».

There are many occurrences of khiliot and tuhôt in the Bible, and in almost all cases these two words have a similar meaning.

For example: « Yea, my khiliot will rejoice « iii, « You are near in their mouths and far from their khiliot« iv. « Probing the khiliot and hearts »v.

As for tuhôt, we find it, for example, in: « Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts (tuhôt); make me, therefore, to know wisdom in mine inmost heart. » vi

Zunneri explains the word khiliot as follows: « Sunt Nezah and Hod », (the khiliots are Nezah and Hod).

Nezah means « to gush, to splash », and Hod means: « what is obscure ».vii

The khiliot may aggregate therefore the meaning of « something obscure », and which « gushes and splashes ».

Zennuri continues: « Ubi indicatur quod הי i.e Binah and Chochmah influxum derivet in renes. »

« Where it is stated that הי, i. e. Intelligence (Binah) and Wisdom (Hokhmah), cause their influx to drift into the kidneys (testicles). »

We have already seen that the Yod י was a symbol of the masculine and that the Hé ה was a symbol of the feminine.

There is an allusion here to the fact that the intimate union of Intelligence and Wisdom is realized in the khiliot. The meaning of « testicles » then takes on all its flavour, its sap.

It is now possible to understand Teresa of Avila, when she says, « From my Beloved I have drunk, » to give an idea of what she receives from God in this divine cellar of union.

What she drinks from her Beloved is His intelligence and wisdom, and their very union.

iJoannis Davidis Zunneri. Kabbala Denudata. Liber Sohar restitutus, Francfort,1684

iiJob 38,36

iiiPr. 23,16

ivJer 12,2

vJer 11,20

viPs. 51,8

viiDictionary English-Hebrew Gensenius-Robinson, New York 1877

Who is the Elder ?

Educated by cabalists such as Elijah del Medigo, an averroist Jew, Pic de la Mirandola, who had studied Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic among other languages, reports that Moses received, in addition to the Law, a secret teaching, which is its true explanation.

But this teaching is accompanied by an obligation of silence about it. Kabbalah reveals this ancient secret, but this secret must be kept hidden.

« Sile, occulta, tege, tace, mussa. » « Keep silent, keep secret, hide, veil, shut up, whisper, » says Johannis Reuchlin, a non-Jewish German humanist and first Hebraist, author of De Verbo Mirifico (1494) and De Arte cabalistica (1517).

However, the appeal of the issue was so compelling, it was so overwhelming, that publications abounded. Rabbi Abraham Levita published a Historica Cabbale in 1584. Gedaliah ben Jedaïa followed with the « Kabbalah chain », Catena Kabbala, in 1587. Christian Knorr von Rosenroth’s Kabbala Denudata was published a century later in 1677. The aim was to « strip naked » Kabbalah in front of the European Renaissance public and to offer a Christian interpretation of it.

Jacques Gaffarel, the main representative of the « Christian » Kabbalah in the 17th century, published a Catalogus manuscriptorum cabalisticorum. He had also published several scholarly works, including Nihil, ferè nihil, minus nihilo: seu de ente, non ente, et medio inter ens et non ens, positiones XXVI (« Nothing, Almost Nothing, Less than Nothing : of Being, Non-Being and What is between Being and Non-Being in 26 Theses ») published in Venice in 1634, and Curiositez inouyes sur la sculpture talismanique des Persans, Horoscope des Patriarches et Lecture des Estoilles, (Incredible Curiosities on the Talismanic Sculpture of Persians, Horoscope of the Patriarchs and Reading of the Stars), 1650, in which he makes fun with spirit of the low level of knowledge of his contemporaries in these high materials, and particularly in the field of biblical exegesis. « What could be more grotesque, after having understood that the word קרן keren was equivocal in horn and glow, or splendour, than to depict Moses with horns, which serves as a surprise to most Christians, & a laughing stock to Jews and Arabs! »

In this book we find a strange « heavenly Hebrew alphabet » that assigns alphabetic signs to the stars, and glosses over the « talismans » of the Chaldeans, Egyptians and Persians. Gaffarel explains: « The Chaldean word Tselmenaiya comes from the Hebrew צלם Tselem which means image; And the Arabic Talisman could be similarly descended in this way, that Talisman was corrupted from צלמם Tsalimam. »

All this was picturesque and instructive, but the big deal was to really access the mystery itself, not to collect its images or symbols. To encourage each other, one remembered that this had already been done, in history, by a few ‘chosen ones’.

There was the testimony of Daniel to whom « the secret was discovered » (Dan. 2,19). The Jewish Ritual also spoke of the « secrets of the world » (רָזַי עוֺלָם). Kabbalah claimed a prestigious heritage of research on this subject, with the Sefer Ha Zohar (Book of Splendour), and the Sefer Yetsirah (Book of Formation). In the Siphra di-Tzeniutha, the « Book of Secrecy », is used an expression, mysterious squared: the « mystery in mystery » (Sithra go sithra).

The « mystery in mystery » is like the Holy of Holies of Kabbalah, – a secret (רָז raz) that resides in the very name of the God of Israel.

In the YHVH Tetragrammaton, יהוה, the first two letters, י and ה, approach each other « like a husband and a wife kissing each other », says the Siphra di-Tzeniutha without blushing. To sacred letters, it is given the power to evoke by their very forms the higher concepts, and the deepest mysteries.

In chapter 4 of the Siphra di-Tzeniutha, we learn that in addition to the twenty-two « visible » letters of the Hebrew alphabet, there are twenty-two other letters, additional and invisible.

For example, there is a visible, revealed י (Yod), but there is also an invisible, mysterious י (Yod). In fact, it is the invisible letters that carry the true meaning. The revealed letters, visible, are only the symbols of the invisible letters.

Considered alone, the י (Yod) symbolizes the masculine, the Father, Wisdom (the 2nd sefira Hokhmah). Likewise, ה (Hé) symbolizes the feminine, the Mother, the Intelligence (the 3rd sefira, Binah).

We can try to dig more. Where does the letter ה (Hey) itself come from? Watch her carefully. It is made up of a י (Yod) that « fertilizes » a ד (Daleth), to form the ה (Hey). That is why it is said that the masculine principle and the feminine principle emanate from the Yod. Because the letter « Yod » writes itself יוד, that is: Yod, Vav, Daleth. The Yod therefore results from the union of the Yod and the Daleth, through the Vav. And we see graphically that this union produces the ה (Hey).

From these kinds of considerations, what could we really conclude?

The Siphra di-Tzeniutha assures us: « The Elder is hidden and mysterious. The small Face is visible and not visible. If it is revealed, it is written in letters. If it does not manifest itself, it is hidden under letters that are not arranged in their place. »

There is what is seen, what is heard, what is written and what is read. But there is also everything that cannot be seen, everything that cannot be heard, everything that cannot be written, and everything that cannot be read, – because all this remains hidden, absent or invisible, and well beyond books.

Hence the ambiguity. The « little face » is seen and not seen, heard and not heard, written and not written, read and not read. It manifests itself, or it does not.

But the « Elder », as for him, remains absolutely hidden. Of him, we won’t know anything. It is a completely different story, which Kabbalah itself has given up on telling.

So it’s up to us to continue the quest : Who is the « little face »? Who is the Elder?

Three-quarters of the speech

In India, Brāhman is the ultimate enigma, – of which the Upaniṣads sparingly reveal some secret teachings.

The word Upaniṣad means several things: the mystery underlying all things; a secret, mysterious, mystical doctrine; the writings relating to Brāhmaṇas, (whose purpose is to expose the secret meaning of the Vedas); the source of the philosophy of Vedānta and Sāṃkhya.

Ṡaṅkara provides a more relaxed explanation of this complicated name: « By adding upa (approach), and ni (deposit) to the SAD root, the meaning is « dissolution » (viṡaraṇa); we have a movement (approach or reach/gati) and a untying (avasādana)… Upaniṣad is the knowledge that has as its object the knowable (vedyavastu). Knowledge is called Upaniṣad by association with its purpose. »

The root SAD, which is the heart of the word, alone has a wide spectrum of meaning: « to sit down (during a sacrifice); to observe carefully; to faint, to collapse from despair, distress, despair, perish; to afflict, ruin, destroy. « 

SAD : Resonances of the attitude of the officiant who makes the sacrifice, and the most extreme feelings of the one who despairs, or the one who destroys.

The search for knowledge is not a long, quiet river. Dissolution, untying, distress, despair, destruction, accompany it.

Apart from Upaniṣad, there are many other secrets, for example in Brahmanic singing, where the issue is « what is secret » (guhā). There are also some in speech: « Speech is measured between four quarters as known to Brāhmanes who have intelligence; three hidden are motionless; humans speak a quarter of the speech.  » (Ṛg Veda I.164.45)

For each word, three out of four parts remain hidden, motionless. Who hears them?

A God hidden in the mud

« You really are a hidden God.  » (Is 45:15)

אָכֵן, אַתָּה אֵל מִסְתַּתֵּר

Vere tu es Deus absconditus.

Isaiah calls out to God by a simple « you », in Hebrew « attah ».

This « you » mocks the cynic, the incredulous. It testifies to the immediate proximity of what is revealed, the certainty of the idea.

But this « you » hides more than it reveals itself.

The adjective « hidden » is said mistatar in Hebrew. Esther of the Book of Esther, bears this name, she is « the hidden one » (מִסְתַּתמִסֵר mistatèr). These words come from the verb סַתָר « to hide, protect, shelter ». This word is often found in the Bible, with a wide range of possible meanings: to cover, conceal, eclipse, bury, wrap, bury, blotch, mask, shut in, shut up, hold, drag, veil.

In the substantive form, three main meanings emerge: 1) What is hidden, secret 2) Envelope, cover, veil 3) Protection, retirement, asylum.

It is revealing, I think, that the meaning of a word that means « veil » can have hidden depths, and refer to other words, just as deep, just as veiled.

The verb tsamtsem, related to the concept of tsimtsum, also means « to veil ».

The God who hides and veils himself is also the God who contracts Himself, and makes Himself silent. It is also the God of kenosis, the God who humbles Himself ( the word humble comes from Latin humus, earth, which also gave homo, man).

What is God hiding in His humiliation? What is He hiding in the humus, in the mud-made man?

A Jewish « Kenosis »

How could an Almighty God, creator of the worlds, let himself be put to death by his own creatures? Mystery. To designate this lowering, this humiliation, this annihilation of the divine, Christianity uses the word kenosis, from the Greek verb kenoô, « to empty oneself, to strip oneself, to annihilate oneself ». This word was first used by the Epistle of Paul to the Philippiansi.

But the idea of God’s death is much older. It can be found in the centuries preceding Christianity in quite different forms, it is true, for example among the Greeks with the death of Dionysus killed by the Titans, but also among the Egyptians with the murder of Osiris and his dismemberment by Seth, his own brother.

Among Jews, with the concept of tsimtsum (from the Hebrew צמצום, contraction), there is also this idea of a « God who empties himself ». It is a concept of late appearance since it is due to Isaac Louria in Ari Zal (Safed, 16th century), who uses it to explain a point of Kabbalah :

Before the creation of the worlds, God was everything, everywhere, and nothing was without Him. But when God decided to create the worlds, he had to give them a place so that they could be. God withdrew his original light, or qadoum. In the void thus created, called reshimou (« imprint », from the verb rashama, « write ») a light emanated from God, or néetsal. This emanated light constitutes the olam ha-Atziluth, the world of Emanation. Then are generated the olam haBeryah or world of Creation, the olam haYetzirah or world of Formation and the olam haAssiya or world of Action, – which contains our world. The light emanating from it therefore undergoes several contractions, compressions, or « dissimulations », which are all tsimtsum.

This word comes from the verb צָמַם tsamam, which has a wide spectrum of meaning: « to put an end to, exterminate, silence, annihilate, compress, contract, squeeze, veil, hide, observe closely, define exactly, certify », which is described in Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of Targumim Talmud and Midrashic Literature (1926). From this rich range, the word tsimtsum probably brings out the harmonics.

Here are some of them, taken from a Kabbalah lesson by Baruch Shalom Alevi Ashlag. The reason why the emanated Light cascades through the four created worlds, Atziluth, Beryah, Yatzirah and Assiya, is that the « desire to receive » must at each step be increased accordingly. For there can be no divine creation without an equally divine desire to « receive » this creation.

In the beginning, there is an abundance of Light created, emanating from the divine essence. Correlatively there must be an abundance of desire to receive this light. But this desire to receive cannot appear in the world ex nihilo. Desire is itself created. It is called Kli ְכְּלִי , a word whose primary meaning is: « thing done, thing made ». It is also called, less metaphorically, Guf (« the body »). The Kli must « receive », « lock », « hold » the light in him (as the root verb כָּלַא indicates).

Here, a little aside. The Kli can be said to be a piece of furniture, a vase, a garment, a suit, a ship, an instrument or a weapon. Here again, all the harmonics of these various senses can undoubtedly be applied to make the Kli resonate in its role as a receptacle of light, – in its role as a soul, therefore. Sander and Trenel’s dictionary says that Kli comes from the root verb כֶּלֶה (kalah), a close word to ֶכָּלַא (kala’), already mentioned. The verb kalah offers an interesting spectrum of meaning: to be made, completed, ready; to be resolved; to disappear, to miss, to be consumed, to perish, to languish; to finish; to consume, to exterminate.

Believing that words serve as a memorial to millenary experiences, I would think that all these meanings apply in one way or another to kli in its possible relationship with light.

Divine light, falling into the different worlds, spreads and at the same time contracts, folds, or veils itself, to let the desire to be received by the Kli grow, by this receptacle, this desire, this soul or this « body », this Kli which is at the root of the created creature. The Kli, who was previously part of the Light, must now distinguish himself from it in order to receive it better; he must separate himself from it in order to desire it better. He desires it as Or Hokhma (the Light of Wisdom) or Or Haya (the Light of Life), or Or Hassadim (the Light of Mercy). The Kli is therefore determined according to the degree of expansion of the Light and also according to its degree of exit from it.

Wise men commented on these questions as follows: « There is crying in inner dwellings ».

This means that when the Light arrives in the lower worlds, and it does not find a Kli wishing to receive it, it remains « interior », unrevealed, and then « there is crying ». But when she finds a Kli who desires her, she can reveal herself on the outside, and then « vigour and joy are in His place », and everything becomes visible.

i Ph. 2, 6-9 « Lui, de condition divine, ne retint pas jalousement le rang qui l’égalait à Dieu. Mais il s’anéantit (εκένωσεν) lui-même, prenant condition d’esclave, et devenant semblable aux hommes. S’étant comporté comme un homme, il s’humilia plus encore, obéissant jusqu’à la mort, et à la mort sur une croix !  Aussi Dieu l’a-t-il exalté et lui a-t-il donné le Nom qui est au-dessus de tout nom. »