Breath, Wind, Spirit in the Veda and the Bible


There are fundamental intuitions that penetrate minds, elect in them a permanent residence, magnify their substance, and invigorate their dreams.

Some of them transcend ages, lands, cultures, languages, religions.

So, the breath.

This word brings together the air and wind, the breath of life, but also the soul and the spirit.

These three areas of meaning, meteorological, biological, spiritual, combined in a word, create a space of echoes.

They link nature, mankind and the divine with a tight knot.

The Veda and the Bible, separated by more than a thousand years of age and several thousand kilometers, are tied from this knot, too.

The Veda says:

« Tribute to the Breath! Under its watch is this universe.

It is the master of all things.

Everything has its foundations in it.

Tribute, O Breath, to your clamour,

Tribute to your thunder!

Tribute, O Breath, to your lightning bolt,

Tribute to you, Breathe, when you rain! (…)

Tribute to you, Breathe, when you breathe,

Tribute to you when you inspire,

to you when you walk away,

Tribute to you when you approach!

The Breath covers the beings,

like the father his beloved son.

The Breath is master of all things

of what breathes and what doesn’t….

Man inhales, exhales,

being in the womb.

As soon as you animate it, O Breath,

he is born again. »i

Wind, rain, thunder, lightning are only signs, they denote the Master of the universe.

Signs also — the spirit and soul of man, and the love of the Breath for the creature.

The Book of Genesis says:

« And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים ( Ruah Elohim) moved upon the face of the waters. »ii

« And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (neshmah); and man became a living soul. (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה nephesh hayah)iii

The Hebrew text uses three different words to mean the « wind » (ruah) of God, the « breath » (neshmah) of life, and the living « soul » (nephesh).

If we open dictionaries, we notice that the meanings of these words circulate fluidly between them.

Ruah: « Breath; wind, air; soul, spirit ».

Neshmah: « Breath of life, soul, spirit. »

Nephesh: « Breath, smell, perfume; life, principle of life; soul, heart, desire; person ».

It is important to underline the intimate union of their meanings. These three Hebrew words come together in a symphony.

Philo of Alexandria writes in his commentary on Genesis:

« The expression (« He breathed ») has an even deeper meaning. Indeed, three things are required: what blows, what receives, what is blown. What blows is God; what receives is intelligence; what is blown is the soul. What is being done with these elements? There is a union of all three. » iv

Usually the wind blows and disperses the dust. Here, the wind gathers the dust, gives it breath and makes it live.

The Veda and the Bible breathe the same breath, the same wind blows, the same spirit shapes the same knot of life.

i AV. 40.4.1-2;8;10;14

ii Gen. 1,2

iii Gen. 2,7

iv Legum Allegoriae, 2, 37

An « automatic » prophet


As its name suggests, surrealism wanted to transcend a little bit the reality, but not too much. That is, surrealism wanted to establish itself, modestly, just a little « above » the common reality.

André Breton, who coined the word, had considered for a moment the word « supernaturalism« , but it was too close to the adjective « supernatural », and its metaphysical connotations: then it was not okay at all. The Surrealists weren’t going to let us think that they were interested to deal with the back worlds and supernatural entities…

In this temporary elevation above reality, the surrealist poet only seeks to occupy unexpected points of view, to produce symbols, to collect images — not falling from above, but spontaneously rising from below: surrealism really is a materialism.

Arcane 17 by André Breton gives some indications on the surrealist way to penetrate the « great secret »:

« This was for me the very key to this revelation I spoke of and that I could only owe to you alone, on the threshold of this last winter. In the icy street, I see you moulded on a shiver, your eyes alone exposed. With the collar high up, the scarf tightened with your hand over your mouth, you were the very image of the secret, one of nature’s great secrets when it was revealed, and in your eyes at the end of a storm you could see a very pale rainbow rising. »

We cannot believe for a moment that this so-called ‘revelation’ belongs to the anecdote, the banal memory, the autobiographical emotion. This would not be worthy of a ‘pope’ like Breton (even if he were to be a surreal one).

« The very image of the secret », it is obvious, cannot just be the figure of a beloved woman, – such as a Jacqueline Lamba, so revealed, so nude in her nautical dance, or an Elisa Claro, so naked in her mystery.

« The very image of the secret » is really a figure of ‘revelation’, of the « great secrets of nature at the moment when it is revealed ».

What is this « great secret »? What is this image « molded on a shiver »?

In a letter dated March 8, 1944, Breton confided: « I am thinking of writing a book around Arcanum 17 (the Star, Eternal Youth, Isis, the myth of the Resurrection, etc.) taking as a model a lady I love and who, unfortunately, is currently in Santiago. »

The « great secret » is therefore that of Arcanum 17, the metaphor of the Star, the (surreal) vision of the resurrection, the intuition of Isis, a dream of dawn and rainbow.

No woman of remembrance, no spectre of the future, no « godmother of God », no « ambassador of saltpetre » or « of the white curve on a black background that we call thought » …

Then who is this Star?

Who is this Isis?

Isis is here, as already in ancient Egypt, a metaphor (‘surreal’ or ‘supernatural’?) of Wisdom, even if Breton, an automatic poet, a Marxist and a Freudian, was probably voluntarily overtaken by his writing process.

Let’s see.

Only the eyes of the « revelation » are exposed. Everything else is wrapped, hidden – like Wisdom, all of it « vision ».

The scarf is tightened from hand to mouth, – like Wisdom, with a rare speech.

His gaze is between the storm and the dawn. Wisdom remains between the past and the future.

The « icy » street is a world without warmth, slippery, without foundation; only Wisdom announces the end of the storm, a saving sign (the very pale rainbow).

Three quarters of a century earlier, Verlaine had already used the adjective « icy ».

« In the old lonely and icy park

Two forms have just passed.

Their eyes are dead and their lips are soft,

And you can barely hear their words. »

Two past shapes, dead-eyed. Two indistinct spectra – unreal.

The « icy street », the revelation « molded on a shiver » – as for them, surreal.

When will the « last winter » end?

When will appear the miracle of heat and light that « pale eyes » provide?

The poet recognized the sign of mystery, he goes back to the source.

« This mysterious sign, which I knew only to you, presides over a kind of exciting questioning that gives at the same time its answer and brings me to the very source of the spiritual life. (…) This key radiates such a light that one begins to worship the very fire in which it was forged. »

Breton, surrealist and materialistic, thus brought to « the very source of the spiritual life »!

Breton, immersed in the light of the mind!

Breton, fire worshipper!

Breton, a Zoroaster from the left bank!

Breton, declaiming the Zend, in a bistro in the Vieux Portof Marseilles!

Why not?

The church of Saint Germain des Prés was built on the site of an old temple of Isis, just like in Marseilles, the Cathedral of the Major.

Always the poet must conclude – with precise words.

« The virtue among all singular that emerges from your being and that, without hesitation, I found myself referred to by these words: « Eternal youth », before having recognized their scope. »

Breton spoke too quickly. He concedes it a posteriori. « Eternal youth », the « virtue among all singular » is still a metaphor, imperfect and surreal.

Carried away by the automatic momentum, Breton finally recognized its scope, and its essence.

The « Eternal youth », this Isis, shouts loudly: Breton is only an automatic prophet of Wisdom.

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

Careful! Logic is misleading


« The most characteristic feature of the mystery is the fact that it is announced everywhere »i.

It is announced, but not revealed.

It is presented, but not disclosed. It is reported, but not visible.

« What is hidden is what is revealed »ii

I assume that « what is hidden » points not to the invisible but to the ineffable.

What is revealed is ineffable.

Between myth and mysticism, there are as many differences as there are between the invisible and the unspeakable.

Buried caches, deep caves, dark cellars, distant Hades, these are the founding places of the myth. Esoteric thinkers promise the vision of these secret places to the initiate, when the time comes.

Mysticism goes beyond myth in this: it claims to reveal nothing of the « mystery », which remains unspeakable, inexpressible, incommunicable. What mysticism teaches is not what cannot be said, but what testifies to it, what by signs takes the place of it.

« The god whose oracle is in Delphi does not reveal, does not hide, but gives a sign. « iii (Heraclitus)

You have to get used to thinking like crabs, to drifting towards the sea, running sideways, going sideways. Think by allusions, by paradoxes. « God exists, but not by existence. He lives, but not by life. He knows, but not by science » iv (Leibniz).

Words, syntax, grammars, are teeming with false leads. The researcher must look for other stars, to cross the unknown seas of the world.

Logic itself and its laws are misleading. It is better to follow Leibniz: « The more we succeed in abstracting ourselves from demonstrating God, the more we progress in His knowledge. »v

iS. John Chrysostom

ii Ignatius of Antioch, Ad. Eph. 19,1

iii Heraclitus, Frag. 93.

ivCf. Observations de Leibniz sur le livre du Rabbin Moïse Maïmonide intitulé le Guide des Égarés. §C57

v Ibid. §C59

Two short Quotes about the Gates of Death


Pir O Murshid Inayat Khan: « Why are you yourself the veil over the answer you seek? »

Seneca to Lucilius: « Then the secrets of nature will be revealed before you; this darkness will divide and the dazzling light will spring forth from all sides. Imagine what a magnificent glow there will be when so many stars unite their light. No shadow will tarnish this serenity (…) How will the divine light present itself to you when you see it in its place? »

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.

iProv.11,2

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 flame.vi

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 »

Teresa’s Ecstasy


Grothendieck has revolutionized the notion of mathematical space, as Einstein did in physics. He invented a new geometry, in which « the arithmetic world and the world of continuous quantities are now one ».

To combine the discontinuous and the continuous, the numbers and the quantities, to make them unite intimately, Grothendieck conceived the metaphor of their « marriages ». This marriage of paper had to be followed by proper consumption, in order to ensure the generation of new mathematical beings.

« For the expected ‘brides’,’of numbers and greatness’, it was like a decidedly narrow bed, where only one of the future spouses (i.e., the bride) could at least find a place to nestle as best as they could, but never both at the same time! The « new principle » that remained to be found, to consume the marriage promised by favourable fairies, was also that this spacious « bed » that the future spouses were missing, without anyone having only noticed it until then. This « double bed » appeared (as if by a magic wand…) with the idea of topos. » i

Grothendieck, the greatest mathematical thinker of the 20th century, explained a revolutionary breakthrough using a matrimonial metaphor, and all that follows.

Indeed, the metaphor of « marriage » has always been used to translate difficult ideas into philosophical contexts.

Two thousand years ago, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria used this same metaphor to present the « mystery of the divine generation ». To translate the idea of « divine generation » into Greek, Philo uses the word τελετή (‘telete’).

This mystery is composed of three elements. There are the two initial « causes » of the generation and their final product.

The two causes are God and Wisdom (who is « the bride of God », – remaining « virgin »)ii.

Wisdom is Virginity itself. Philo relies on the authority of the prophet Isaiah, who affirms that God unites himself with Virginity in itself.iii

Philo specifies elsewhere: « God and Wisdom are the father and mother of the world ».iv

In the Christian tradition, there are similar metaphors, derived from Jewish ideas, but transposed into the « union » of Christ and the Church.

A 16th century Christian cabalist, Guillaume Postel, uses the metaphor of the love of the male and female to describe this union:

« For as there is love of the male to the female, by which she is bound, so there is love and bond of the female to the male by which she is bound. This is the mystery of the most wonderful secret of the Church’s authority over God and Heaven, as well as over God and Heaven on Church by which Jesus meant it: Whatever you bind on earth will be bound to Heaven. »v

Teresa of Avila, a contemporary of Guillaume Postel, speaks through experience of « perfect union with God, called spiritual marriage »:

« God and the soul are one, like crystal and the ray of sunlight that penetrates it, like coal and fire, like the light of the stars and the light of the sun (…) To give an idea of what it receives from God in this divine cellar of union, the soul is content to say these words (and I do not see that it could better say to express something of them):

From my Beloved I drank.

For as the wine that we drink spreads and penetrates into all the limbs and veins of the body, so this communication of God spreads to the whole soul (…) The Bride speaks of it in these terms in the book of Songs: ‘My soul has become liquefied as soon as the Bridegroom has spoken’. »vi

Therese of Avila speaks of the Bride « burning with the desire to finally reach the kiss of union with the Bridegroom », quoting the Song of Songs: « There you shall teach me ».

The Song of Songs has incestuous resonances:

« Oh, what a brother to me, breastfed in my mother’s womb! Meeting you outside, I could kiss you, without people despising me. I’ll drive you, I’ll introduce you to my mother’s house, you’ll teach me! I’ll make you drink a fragrant wine, my pomegranate liqueur. »vii

This spicy passage was strangely interpreted by S. François de Sales:

« And these are the tastes that will come, these are the ecstasies, these are the summits of the powers; so that the sacred wife asks for pillows to sleep. »viii

Metaphors! Metaphors! Where do you lead us to?

iRécoltes et Semailles, §2.13 Les topos — ou le lit à deux places

iiPhilo of Alexandria. De Cherubim

iii Is. 66, 6-9

iv De Ebrietate, 30

v Guillaume Postel (1510-1581). Interprétation du Candélabre de Moïse (Venise 1548).« Car comme il y a amour du masle à la femelle, par laquelle elle est liée, aussi y a-t-il amour et lien de la femelle au masle par lequel il est lyé. Cecy est le mistère du très merveilleux secret de l’authorité de l’Eglise sur Dieu et sur le Ciel, comme de Dieu et du Ciel sur icelle par lequel Jésus l’a voulu dire : Ce que vous lierez sur la terre sera lyé au Ciel. »

viTeresa of Avila (1515-1582). The Interior Castle

viiCt 8,1-2

viiiFrançois de Sales. Œuvres complètes. p. 706

The Three Screams of God


When do you need a ‘veil’ ?

There are strong reasons to wear a veil, under certain circumstances. For example, it reads:

« And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. »i

Or: « When Moses had finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. »ii

In both cases, the veil seems to be justified, for very different reasons.

But there are times when, clearly, you have to remove the veil. For example:

« When Moses entered before the Lord to speak with him, he took off the veil until he came out. »iii

How can we explain that Moses sometimes veils himself, and sometimes reveals himself, when he is in the presence of God?

Moses, it seems to me, makes an essential difference between watching and speaking.

To make a long story short, this difference is as follows: the gaze kills, the word gives life.

It is certain that there is mortal danger in « seeing » the face of God. « Man cannot see me and live. »iv

To overcome this risk, Moses only looks at God’s « back » or the « cloud » in which He hides.

On the contrary, the word is the very instrument of prophecy. It does not kill, it gives life.

With a capital letter, the Word is Wisdom, Verb, Logos. It is even placed at the right hand of God, like Adonaiv. It names the Name. It sets out the Law.

In the extreme, the Word is a « scream ». More precisely, three screams.

It reads: « The Lord passed before him and screamed: ‘YHVH, YHVH, God, merciful and gracious!’  » vi

Why does God shout His name to Moses three times?

Why does He shout His name ‘YHVH’ twice in a row, and His name ‘EL’ a third time?

These three screams are not addressed to Moses alone, maybe.

They must be heard, long after, by all those who were not there, – all of humanity yet to come.

In order for these ‘names’ to be heard long after Moses days, they had to be screamed, to be shouted, very loud, to reach the extremities of Mankind. But above all, they had to be written.

« Put these words in writing »vii.

Words, screams, writings. How do you put a scream in writing ? With capital letters? There are none in Hebrew.

If Moses had put on a veil, he would not have « seen », and above all he would have heard badly enough, one can speculate – except for the screams. But, for sure, with a veil he could not have written.

And he could not have spoken (audibly). Moses did not have an easy wordviii. With a veil over his face, he would have been even more embarrassed to speak distinctly.

The veil would have been a barrier to exchange. It was therefore not really necessary, it was even strongly discouraged.

Especially since the interview environment was very noisy. « Moses was speaking and God was answering him in thunder. »ix

Moses had previously put a veil over his face for fear of dying in front of the Face, or when he had wanted to hide his own « shining » face from the Israelites.

The veil was then necessary, it seems, as a defence (against death) or as a modesty (against the jealousy of the people).

But when it came to speaking, hearing, writing, then Moses removed the veil.

The lesson is still valid today.

i Ex. 3,6

ii Ex. 34,33

iii Ex. 34, 34

iv Ex. 33,20

v Ps. 110 (109) -1

vi Ex. 34,6

vii Ex. 34,27

viii Ex. 6,30

ix Ex.19,19

“I nothing saw” (Dante)


One of the best French Kabbalah specialists is named “Secret”, Mr. François Secret. Proper names sometimes carry in them collective fates. François Secret wrote Le Zohar chez les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (1958), a book in which such romantic names as Bartholomeus Valverdius, Knorr de Rosenroth, Blaise de Vigenère, Alfonso de Zamora, Guy Le Fèvre de la Boderie, or Gilles de Viterbe, the famous Guillaume Postel, and of course Johannis Reuchlin and Pic de la Mirandole appear. These names appear like shooting stars in the night. We would like to follow their trajectories, engraved in the ink of long nights.

But Mr. Secret, so learned, reveals no secrets, one can regret it.

It encourages us to continue searching, at the sources, or among the apparently initiated.

One of the most famous books of Kabbalah is called, without excess of modesty, Siphra di Tsenniutha (The Book of Mystery). It begins as follows:

« The Mystery Book is the Book that describes the balance of the balance. For before there was balance, the Face did not look at the Face. »

Compact style. From the outset, we get into the subject. ‘Balance’. ‘Face’. ‘Look’.

What could be higher than the Face? What could be deeper than his gaze?

Verse 9 of the Siphra di Tsenniutha suggests the existence of a depth scale (the unknown, the occult, the occult in the occult): « The head that is not known (…) is the occult in the occult ».

Verse 12 specifies important, scattered details: « Her hair is like pure wool floating in the balanced balance ». Chapter 2 of the Mystery Book refers to a « beard of truth ». The « head that is not known » wears, we learn, « hair » and « beard ».

According to one commentary, the « truth beard » is « the ornament of everything ». From the ears, where it begins, « it forms a garment around the face ».

Truth clothes the Face.

There is this passage from Revelation: « His head, with its white hair, is like white wool, like snow, his eyes like a burning flame. »i

These materialistic images, beard, hair, wool, flame, are common to the Christian Apocalypse and the Jewish Kabbalah. They have been deemed relevant by our elders for the representation of the « Face » of God. Why?

The millennia have passed. A concrete image, even if unreal or misleading, is better than an empty abstraction. As a trope, it suggests openings, avenues, encourages criticism, stimulates research.

Kabbalah projects the surreptitious idea that all the symbolism with which it is steeped is not only symbolic. The symbol, in this context, is the very thing. Each word, each letter of the Text, is a kind of incarnation, literally literal. Metaphors and images also carry the burden of incarnation.

This is one of the most constant paradoxes of the fickle science of interpretation. The more concrete is the best symbol of the abstract.

The verbal alchemy of Kabbalah transmutes words, transforms them into an acute surface, with a bushy, burning aura, pulverizes them and disperses them in all directions, sparkling with opalescence.

Let us add this. The Law is supposed to be transparent, since it is intended to be understood and fulfilled. But the Law is also full of shadows, darkness. How can this paradox be explained?

Kabbalah explains the Law in its enlightened parts. But what remains obscure is the totality of its meaning, drowned in shadows, and its ultimate purpose is incomprehensible, inscrutable. The darkness of the Law is systemic. Kabbalah, verbose, confused, provides fewer answers than it forges infinite questions. It shows that the Law is irreducible, insubordinate to reason, to sight, to understanding.

The whole of the Law, its meaning, its end, cannot be grasped by biased, narrow minds. Through the centuries, the shadow, the hidden, the occult always appear again.

“O ye who have undistempered intellects,

Observe the doctrine that conceals itself

Beneath the veil of the mysterious verses!”ii

Song IX of Hell describes the 6th circle, where the heresiarchs and followers of sects are confined, who have not known how to understand or see the deployment of the Whole.

The researcher walks in the night. Surprised by a flash, the gaze discovers the magnitude of the landscape, an infinite number of obscure details. Immediately, this grandiose and precise spectacle disappears into the shadows. The lightning that reveals deprives the blind eye of its strength.

“Even as a sudden lightning that disperses

The visual spirits, so that it deprives

The eye of impress from the strongest objects,

Thus round about me flashed a living light,

And left me swathed around with such a veil

Of its effulgence, that I nothing saw”iii.

i Rev. 1,14

iiDante, Hell, IX, 61-63

iiiDante, Paradise, XXX

« You, Israel, are joyful, but my servants are grieving. »


Everything contributes to deceive, delude, mislead, the seeker who ventures into the slippery terrain of mystery, – without guidance, compass or bearings. The shoehorns are multiplying underfoot, in words. There are a thousand opportunities to get lost. The material is too rich, too vast, too flexible, too subtle. It is covered with too many veils, protected by thick walls, buried in the depths of forgotten cenotaphs, vanished into a clear azure, lost in the inaudible murmur of the zephyr.

You need a singularly piercing eye, a fine ear, a gentle touch, to only feel the fleeting shadow of a clue.

The mystery seeker reminds us of this character from Ṛg Veda: « Sullen, without knowledge, I question with my mind what are the hidden traces of the gods. »i

The seeker contemplates with his thoughts Isaiah’s seraphim, with their three pairs of wings, two of which are to cover their face and feet, and the third to fly, and he cannot be satisfied with what he sees, since they hide from him what he cannot see.

He tries to understand the meaning of Greek words that are only outer envelopes, without content: mystery (μυστήριον), symbol (σύμϐολον), enigma (αἲνιγμα), sign (σημεῖον), shadow (σκία), shape (τύπος) or similarity (εἰκών).

Origen has shown as clearly as possible, without being discouraged, how the mystery is constantly being hidden, and how, without interruption, it is being overlooked. He stated with a sense of evidence: « We feel that everything is full of mysteries”ii and also: « Everything that happens, happens in mysteries.»iii

In terms of mysteries, a higher irony haunts some Kabbalah texts, such as this one: « You, Israel, are joyful, but my servants are grieving. For it is a mystery from the mysteries that leaves my treasure. All your schools prosper like fattened calves (Jeremiah 46:21), not by sorrow, not by labor, but by the name of this seal and by the mention of the terrifying crown. »iv

How would one interpret that sentence, nowadays?

Without waiting too long for an answer that will not easily be spit out, the researcher picks up other grains of knowledge that were collected thousands of years ago: « What is manifested and secret, what moves here in the secret heart of our being is the powerful foundation in which is established all that moves and breathes and sees. »v

He meditated on the details of Ezekiel’s experience, wondering about the differences between brightness, fire, and amber: « And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.» vi

The researcher measures the inanity of his efforts, the derisory nature of his strengths. He is aware that the idea of mystery could be nothing more than an illusion, a chimera, a pretext to collect in sheer waste scattered symbols, a propensity to tear diaphanous veils, to plunge into a verbal abyss, to overestimate the signs, to desire to see, instead of live.

Origen had warned: true knowledge is love. Plunged in sweet madness, the seeker seeks love in the true mystery.

iŖg Veda I,164,1

iiOrigen, Lev. Hom. 3,8

iiiOrigen, Gen. Hom. 9,1

iv Cf. Section Sar Ha-Torah (« Prince of Torah ») from Hekhalot Rabbati (« Great Palaces »)

vMundaka 2,2,1

viEz 1, 4

The Koran is a Torah of « Kindness » said Sabbatai Tsevi


By proclaiming himself « Messiah » in 1648, Sabbatai Tsevi created a movement that was both revolutionary and apocalyptic. He achieved great success, and his messianic vocation was recognized as such by the Jews of Aleppo and Smyrna, his hometown, as well as by many Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the Middle East.

But, after a beginning as shattering as it was promising, why did Tsevi then apostasize Judaism and convert to Islam in 1666?

Gershom Scholem reports in his study of him that Tsevi was actually seeking, in apostasy, the « mystery of the Divinity ».

In any case, one cannot fail to admire his courage and his spirit of transgression. Tsevi converted spectacularly to Islam, when he was seen as Messiah by a large part of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Why? This is due to a profound, difficult, but not unimportant idea – even today.

Tsevi believed that his apostasy, as Messiah, would advance tiqoun (« reparation » or « reconstruction »), thereby working for the restoration of the world.

A foolish bet, full of good intentions.

The tiqoun required broad, radical, revolutionary gestures.

Moses had brought a Law of Truth (Torah Emet) and the Koran a Law of Kindness (Torah Hessed), he said. These two laws had to be reconciled in order to save the world, as the Psalmist says: « Goodness and truth meet » (Ps. 85:11).

It was not necessary to oppose laws and traditions, but to unite them, to conjoin them. As proof, Kabbalists argued that the « divine mystery » is symbolically embodied in the sixth Sefira, Tiferet, which corresponds to the third letter (ו Vav) of the Tetragrammaton, which marks the conjunction, in Hebrew grammar (ו means « and »).

Tsevi, well versed in Kabbalah, was not satisfied with it, however. He thought that the divine mystery was located far above the Sefirot, even beyond the first principle, beyond the idea of the First Cause, beyond the inaccessible Ein-sof, and finally far beyond the very idea of mystery.

The ultimate remains in the holiest simplicity.

That is why, after having been influenced by it for a long time, Sabbatai Tsevi finally rejected the Kabbalah of Luria. He said that « Isaac Louria had built an admirable tank but had not specified who was driving it ».

The admirable chariot was the metaphor then accepted to designate the Sefirot of Louria. This expression also referred to Ezekiel’s famous vision.

The Tsevi question remains relevant today. Who drives the Sefirot’s chariot?

An even more important question, maybe :

Where is this chariot really going?

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?

Devouring the dead God


 

Orpheus, who went down to the underworld, has an amazing resumé. He invented poetry, which is no small thing. He called Apollo « the living eye of Heaven », and « the one who shapes everything in the world ». He also saw with his own eyes the primordial Chaos dominated by Love.

The main sources on Orpheus are two poets, Virgil and Ovid. Referring to some Christian and Neoplatonist authors, he was also recruited to embody a kind of pagan image of the Word.

The name Orpheus, has no recognized etymology but Chantraine believes that it can be linked to the Indo-European *orbho, « separate, remove », hence the Latin orbus, « deprived of ». This refers, of course, to Eurydice.

The myth of Orpheus dates back to before the 6th century BC since a statue of Orpheus playing the lyre was found dating back to 560 BC.

Orpheus gave his name to a mystical current, orphism, known by hymns, and various texts and archaeological inscriptions including the Golden Lamellae. The general idea is that the soul, soiled from the beginning, must undergo a cycle of reincarnations from which only initiation into the mysteries of Orpheus can bring it out. Then she is allowed to join the Gods.

Orphism has never been a socially organized religion. On the contrary, orphism challenged the established order, rejected the values of the Greek cities and their cults. One became orphic by personal choice, after initiation.

Onomacrite was responsible for the writing of the first compilation of poems and orphic hymns. This singular character had been commissioned by Pisistrate, around 525 BC, to prepare the first complete edition of Homer’s poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He was also a diviner, an initiate in mysteries, who traded in oracles. Herodotus tells us that Greek tyrants, dethroned and refugees at the court of Persia, the Pisistratids, called upon his talents to invent oracles in order to incite Xerxes I to start the second medieval war in 481 B.C.

Religion and politics were in close alliance. The city of Delphi and its Pythia, oracle of Apollo, had also taken the side of the Persians. The battle of Salamis proved them wrong. After the Greek victory, Delphi claimed to have been protected by divine intervention. Herodotus attests it: « As the Barbarians approached the temple of Minerva Pronaea, lightning fell on them; rocky quarters, detaching themselves from the top of the Parnassus and rolling with a horrible noise, crushed a great number of them. At the same time, voices and war cries were heard coming out of the temple of Minerva Pronaea. » i

Aristophanes makes fun of Orphic sects in The Birds. He denounces its charlatanism. Plato and Theophrastus present them as gyrovagal priests, selling cheap purifications to a gullible public.

 

However, the Orphic ideas were conscientiously taken up by neo-Pythagoreans and Neo-Platonists.

The main myth of orphism is the killing of Dionysus by the Titans, who cut him into pieces and then devoured him. Furious, Zeus struck down the latter, and from their ashes were born humans.

Men therefore have a double ancestry. They descend from the Titans, but also from the Gods, through the flesh of devoured Dionysus, also being part of the ashes from which humans are derived. There is an analogy, if not obvious at all, with Christian communion.

Christ was put to death, and his followers share his flesh and blood in memory of him.

Let’s go back to the Dionysian myth.

Persephone, Dionysus-Zagreus’ mother, never forgave the murder and devouring of her son. She then condemned man to wander unceasingly, from incarnation to incarnation. How could offspring from the ashes, from the corpses of the Titans, these eaters of God, be allowed to enter the divine world?

The gold or bone slides found in various tombs indicate that the Orphic and Pythagorean sects gave the initiates hope of deliverance upon their arrival in the afterlife. But on one condition, not to go the wrong way. If one turns left, it’s the fatal mistake. One falls into the spring of Lethe, which plunges the soul into oblivion. If you turn right, it’s the right choice. You find the source of the goddess Mnemosyne who reminds souls of their memory and reminds them of their divine origin.

The golden slice that the deceased initiate takes with him to his grave is a kind of reminder:

« You will find a spring to the left of Hades’ house,

and near her, standing up, a white cypress tree:

from this source, stay away from it.

You will find a second source, the cold water that flows

of Lake Mnemosyne; in front of them stand guards.

Say: « I am the son of the Earth and the Starry Sky;

my race is heavenly, and you know that too…

I am dried up from thirst and I will perish: give me therefore

quickly the cold water that flows from Lake Memory.

And they themselves will give you something to drink from the divine source;

and from that moment on, among the other heroes, you will rule.

And from that moment on, with the other heroes, you will be sovereign. » ii

iHérodotus, VIII, 35-38

iiLamelles d’or orphiques. Instructions pour le voyage d’outre-tombe des initiés grecs, lamelle de Pétélia ( 5th century BC), Ed. by Giovanni Pugliese Carratelli, Les Belles Lettres, 2003, p. 61.