« Making God »: Kabbalah, Trance and Theurgy.


« Shamanic Trance »

Words are devious. Language is treacherous, and grammars are vicious. Willingly ignorant of these deficiencies, men have been sailing for millennia in oceans of sentences, drifting above the depths of meanings, equipped with broken compasses, falsified sextants, under the fleeting stars.

How accurately, then, can men understand a « divine revelation » when it is made of « words », clothed in their unfathomable depths, their ambiguous abysses?

Error lurks for the wise. The study never ends. Who can pretend to grasp the ultimate meaning of any revelation?

Let us start with a single verse of the Psalms, which opened worlds of interpretation, during millenia.

« It is time to make YHVH » (Ps. 119:126).

« Making YHVH? » Really? Yes, this is the meaning that some Jewish Kabbalists, in Medieval Spain, decided was the true sense conveyed by Ps. 119:126.

Most versions of the Bible, today, give more ‘rational’ translations of Ps. 119:126, such as:

« It is time for the LORD to work »i

Or:

« It is time for thee, LORD, to work »ii

Why then, did some medieval rabbis, most of them Kabbalists, chose to deviate from the obvious, traditional meaning carried by the Massoretic text? Why did they dare to flirt with scandal? Were they not aware that they were shocking the Jewish faith, or even just simple common sense, by pretending to « make » YHVH?

Many centuries before the Jewish Kabbalists tried their wits on this particular verse, manuscripts (and interpretations) already differed greatly about its true meaning.

The obvious meaning was indeed: « It is time for God to act ».

Other interpretations prefered : « It is time to act for God », – i.e. men should finally do for God what they had to do.

Has the time come (for the LORD) to act, or has the time come (for men) to act for the LORD?

Forsaking these two possible (and indeed differing) readings, the Kabbalists in early medieval Spain chose yet another interpretation: « It is time [for men] to make God. » iii

Why this audacity, rubbing shoulders with blasphemy, shaving the abyss?

The Hebrew Bible, in the Massoretic version which was developed after the destruction of the Second Temple, and which therefore dates from the first centuries of our era, proposes the following text:

עֵת, לַעֲשׂוֹת לַיהוָה

‘èt la’assot la-YHVH

This can be translated as: « It is time to act for God », if one understands לַיהוָה = for YHVH

But the Kabbalists refused this reading. They seem not to have used the Massoretic text, but other, much older manuscripts which omit the preposition for (לַ).

The word ‘God’ (or more precisely יהוָה, ‘YHVH’) thus becomes the direct object complement of the verb ‘to do, to act’. Hence the translation : ‘It is time to make God’.

The Bible of the French Rabbinate follows the Massoretic version and translates :

« The time has come to act for the Lord ».

The Jerusalem Bible (Ed. Cerf, 1973) translates: « It is time to act, Yahweh ».

In this interpretation, the Psalmist seems to somehow admonish YHVH and gives Him a pressing request to « act ». The translators of the Jerusalem Bible note that the Massoretic text indicates « for Yahweh », which would imply that it is up to man to act for Him. But they do not retain this lesson, and they mention another handwritten (unspecified) source, which seems to have been adopted by S. Jerome, a source which differs from the Massoretic text by the elision of the preposition ל. Hence the adopted translation: « It is time to act, Yahweh », without the word for.

But, again, the lessons vary, depending on how you understand the grammatical role of the word ‘Yahweh’…

S. Jerome’s version (the Vulgate) gives :

Tempus is ut facias Domine.

The word ‘Lord’ is in the vocative (‘Domine!’): the Psalmist calls upon the Lord to ask Him to act. « It is time for You to act, Lord! »

However, in the text of the Clementine Vulgate, finalized in the 16th century by Pope Clement VIII, and which is the basis of the ‘New Vulgate’ (Nova Vulgata) available online on the Vatican website, it reads:

Tempus faciendi Domino

The word ‘Lord’ is in the dative (‘Domino’), and thus plays the role of a complement of attribution. « It is time to act for the Lord ».

The Septuagint (that is, the version of the Bible translated into Greek by seventy-two Jewish scholars gathered in Alexandria around 270 B.C.E.) proposes, for its part

καιρὸς τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ-

Kairos tou poïêsai tô kyriô

Here too the word ‘Lord’ is in the dative, not in the vocative. « It is time to act for the Lord ».

This ancient lesson of the Septuagint (established well before the Massoretic text) does not, however, resolve a residual ambiguity.

One can indeed choose to emphasize the need to act, which is imparted to the Lord Himself:

« For the Lord, the time to act has come ».

But one can just as easily choose to emphasize the need for men to act for the Lord:

« The time has come to act for the Lord ».

In relation to these different nuances, what I’d like to emphasize here is the radically different understanding chosen by the Kabbalists in medieval Spain:

« It is time to make God ».

Rabbi Meir Ibn Gabbay wrote:

« He who fulfills all the commandments, his image and likeness are perfect, and he is like the High Man sitting on the Throne (Ez. 1:26), he is in his image, and the Shekhinah is established with him because he has made all his organs perfect: his body becomes a throne and a dwelling for the figure that corresponds to him. From there you will understand the secret of the verse: « It is time to make YHVH » (Ps. 119:126). You will also understand that the Torah has a living soul (…) It has matter and form, body and soul (…) And know that the soul of the Torah is the Shekhinah, the secret of the last he [ה ], the Torah is its garment (…) The Torah is therefore a body for the Shekhinah, and the Shekhinah is like a soul for her. » iv

Charles Mopsik notes that « this expression [« making God »], roughly stated, can surprise and even scandalize ».

At least, this is an opportunity to question the practices and conceptions of the Jewish Kabbalah in matters of ‘theurgy’.

The word ‘theurgy’ comes from the Latin theurgia, « theurgy, magic operation, evocation of spirits », itself borrowed by Augustine from the Greek θεουργία , « act of divine power », « miracle », « magic operation ». E. des Places defines theurgy as « a kind of binding action on the gods ». In Neoplatonism, « theurgy » means « the act of making God act in oneself », according to the Littré.

E. R. Dodds devotes an appendix of his work The Greeks and the Irrationalv to the theurgy, which he introduces as follows: « The theologoi ‘spoke of the gods’, but [the theourgos] ‘acted upon them’, or perhaps even ‘created them' », this last formula being an allusion to the formula of the famous Byzantine scholar Michel Psellus (11th century): « He who possesses the theurgic virtue is called ‘father of the gods’, because he transforms men into gods (theous all anthropous ergazetai). » vi

In this context, E.R. Dodd cites Jamblichus’ treatise De mysteriis, which he considers ‘irrational’ and a testimony to a ‘culture in decline’: « De mysteriis is a manifesto of irrationalism, an affirmation that the way to salvation is not in human reason but in ritual. It is not thought that links theurgists to the gods: what else would prevent philosophical theorists from enjoying the theurgical union? But this is not the case. Theurgic union is achieved only by the efficacy of ineffable acts performed in the proper way, acts that are beyond understanding, and by the power of ineffable symbols that are understood only by gods… without intellectual effort on our part, signs (sunthêmata) by their own virtue perform their own work’ (De myst. 96.13 Parthey). To the discouraged spirit of the pagans of the fourth century such a message brought seductive comfort. « vii

But the result of these attitudes, privileging ‘rite’ over ‘intellectual effort,’ was « a declining culture, and the slow thrust of that Christian athéotês who all too obviously undermined the very life of Hellenism. Just as vulgar magic is commonly the last resort of the desperate individual, of those who have been lacking in both man and God, so theurgy became the refuge of a desperate ‘intelligentsia’ that already felt the fascination of the abyss. » viii

The modes of operation of the theurgy vary notoriously, covering a vast domain, from magical rites or divination rites to shamanic trances or phenomena of demonic or spiritual ‘possession’.

E.R. Dodds proposes to group them into two main types: those that depend on the use of symbols (symbola) or signs (sunthêmata), and those that require the use of a ‘medium’, in ecstasy. The first type was known as telestikê, and was mainly used for the consecration and animation of magical statues in order to obtain oracles. The making of magical statuettes of gods was not a ‘monopoly of theurgists’. It was based on an ancient and widespread belief of a universal sympatheia ix, linking the images to their original model. The original center of these practices was Egypt.

Dodds cites Hermes Trismegistus’ dialogue with Asclepius (or Aesculapius), which evokes « animated statues, full of meaning and spirit » (statuas animatas sensu et spiritu plenas), which can predict the future, inflict or cure diseases, and imprison the souls of deer or angels, all the theurgic actions summarized by Hermes Trismegistus’ formula: sic deorum fictor est homo, (« this is how man makes gods »)x.

« To make gods »: this expression was there to prefigure, with more than a thousand years of anteriority, the formula put forward later by R. Meir ibn Gabbay and other Kabbalists: « to make YHVH », – although undoubtedly with a different intention. We shall return to this.

In his book The City of God, S. Augustinexi had quoted large excerpts from this famous dialogue between Hermes Trismegistus and Asclepius, including these sentences:

« As the Lord and the Father, God in a word, is the author of the heavenly gods, so man is the author of those gods who reside in temples and delight in the neighborhood of mortals. Thus, humanity, faithful to the memory of its nature and origin, perseveres in this imitation of its divinity. The Father and the Lord made the eternal gods in his likeness, and humanity made its gods in the likeness of man. » xii

And Hermes added: « It is a marvel above all wonder and admiration that man could invent and create a divinity. The disbelief of our ancestors was lost in deep errors about the existence and condition of the gods, forsaking the worship and honors of the true God; thus they found the art of making gods. »

The anger of St. Augustine exploded at this very spot against Hermes. « I don’t know if the demons themselves would confess as much as this man! »

After a long deconstruction of the Hermetic discourse, Augustine concludes by quoting a definitive sentence of the prophet Jeremiah:

« Man makes himself gods (elohim)? No, of course, they are not gods (elohim)! » xiii

Attempting to combat the « sarcasm » of Christian criticism, Jamblichus strove to prove that « idols are divine and filled with the divine presence. « xiv

This art of making divine statues had to survive the end of the « dying pagan world » and find its way into « the repertoire of medieval magicians, » Dodds notesxv.

One could add, without seeing any malice in it, that the idea was also taken up by the Spanish Jewish cabal in the Middle Ages, and later still, by the rabbis who made Golem, such as the Maharal of Prague, nicknamed Yehudah-Leib, or Rabbi Loew…

This is at least the suggestion proposed by E.R. Dodds: « Did the theurgical telestikê suggest to medieval alchemists their attempts to create artificial human beings (« homunculi« )? (…) Curious clues to some historical relationship have recently been put forward by Paul Kraus. (…) He points out that the vast alchemical corpus attributed to Jâbir b. Hayyan (Gebir) not only alludes to Porphyry’s (apocryphal?) Book of the Generation, but also uses neo-Platonic speculations about images. » xvi

The other operational mode of theurgy is trance or mediumnic possession, of which Dodds notes « the obvious analogy with modern spiritism. xvii

I don’t know if the « modern spiritism » that Dodds spoke of in the 1950s is not a little outdated today, but it is certain that the rites of trance and possession, whether they are practiced in Morocco (the Gnaouas), Haiti (Voodoo), Nepal, Mongolia, Mexico, and everywhere else in the world, are still worth studying. One can consult in this respect the beautiful study of Bertrand Hell, Possession and Shamanismxviii, whose cover page quotes the superb answer of the Great Mughal Khan Güyük to Pope Innocent IV in 1246: « For if man is not himself the strength of God, what could he do in this world? »

Many are the skeptics, who doubt the very reality of the trance. The famous Sufi philosopher al-Ghazali, in his 12th century Book of the Proper Use of Hearing and Ecstasy, admits the possibility of « feigned » ecstasy, but he adds that deliberately provoking one’s « rapture » when participating in a cult of possession (dikhr) can nevertheless lead the initiate to a true encounter with the divine. xix

Bertrand Hell argues that simulations and deceptions about ecstasy can open up a fertile field of reflection, as evidenced by the concepts of « para-sincerity » (Jean Poirier), « lived theater » (Michel Leiris) or « true hallucination » (Jean Duvignaud). xx

In the definitions and examples of theurgies we have just gone through, it is a question of « making the divinity act » in itself, or « acting » on the divinity, and much more exceptionally of « creating » it. The only examples of a theurgy that « creates gods » are those evoked by Hermes Trismegistus, who speaks of man as the « maker of gods » (fictor deorum), and by Michel Psellus, with the somewhat allegorical sense of a theurgy that exercises itself on men to « transform them into gods ».

This is why Charles Mopsik’s project to study the notion of theurgy as it was developed in the Jewish cabal has a particularly original character. In this case, in fact, theurgy does not only mean « to make the god act upon man », or « to act upon the god » or « to make man divine », but it takes on the much more absolute, much more radical, and almost blasphemous meaning, particularly from a Jewish point of view, of « creating God », of « making God »xxi.

There is a definite semantic and symbolic leap here. Mopsik does not hesitate to propose this leap in the understanding of theurgy, because it was precisely the radical choice of the Spanish Jewish Kabbalah, for several centuries…

___________________

iAccording to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition.

iiKing James Version

iiiCf. the long and learned study devoted to this last interpretation by Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993

ivR. Méir Ibn Gabbay. Derekh Emounah. Jerusalem, 1967, p.30-31, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 371-372.

vE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.279-299

viMichel Psellus. Greek patrology. 122, 721D, « Theurgicam virtutem qui habet pater divinus appellatur, quoniam enim ex hominibus facit deos, illo venit nomine. »

viiE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.284.

viiiE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.284.

ixE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.289

xAsclepius III, 24a, 37a-38a. Corpus Hermeticum. Trad. A.J. Festugière. t. II. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1973, p.349, quoted by E.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.291.

xiS. Augustine. The City of God. VIII, 23-24

xiiAsclepius, 23.

xiiiJr 16.20

xivPhotius, Bibl. 215. Quoted by E.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the Irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.292

xvE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.292

xviE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.293

xviiE.R. Dodds. The Greeks and the irrational. Flammarion, 1977, p.294

xviiiBertand Hell, Possession and Shamanism. Les maîtres du désordre, Flammarion, 1999

xixBertand Hell, Possession and Shamanism. Les maîtres du désordre, Flammarion, 1999, p.198

xxBertand Hell, Possession and Shamanism. Les maîtres du désordre, Flammarion, 1999, p.197

xxiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.550.

The Secret Teaching of Hermes


In a short dialogue, Hermes addresses his son Tati to summarize some ancient, and quite essential ideas. We learn that man is made up of separate envelopes, body, mind, soul, reason, intelligence. As he gradually emerges from these envelopes, man is called upon to « know » better and better. His final vocation is « apotheosis », a word that must be taken literally i.e. to go « above the gods ».

Hermes:

– The energy of God is in His will. And God wants the universe to be. As Father, as Good, He wants the existence of that which is not yet. This existence of beings, there is God, there is the Father, there is the Good, it is no other thing. The world, the sun, the stars participate in the existence of beings. But they are not, however, for the living the cause of their life, or the origin of the Good. Their action is the necessary effect of the will of the Good, without which nothing could exist or become.

[My comment: Hermes does not believe in the immanence of the divine in the world. The divine is absolutely transcendent, and only His Will, whose effect can be observed through the existence of His creation, bears witness to this transcendent remoteness.]

Hermes:

It must be recognized that the vision of the Good is above our strength. The eyes of our intelligence cannot yet contemplate its incorruptible and incomprehensible beauty. You will see it a little, perhaps, when you at least know that you can say nothing about it. For true knowledge is found in the silence and rest of every sensation. Whoever achieves it can no longer think of anything else, nor look at anything, nor hear anything, nor even move his body. There is no more sensation or movement for him.

[My comment: There are two kinds of spirits. Those who have « seen » the Good, but cannot say anything about it, and those who have not « seen » it, but who will perhaps one day see it, under certain conditions. Hermes belongs to the first group. He can only express himself by allusion. He cannot say anything about it, which is already a lot …].

Hermes:

– The splendor that inundates all his thought and his soul tears man from the bonds of the body and transforms him entirely into divine essence. The human soul reaches the apotheosis when he has contemplated this beauty of Good.

Tat :

– What do you mean by « apotheosis », Father?

[My comment: Tat’s question is not a lexicographical one. He is waiting for a full description of the phenomenon. The word « apotheosis » is not a neologism, a word invented by Hermes. The word was used, for example, previously by Strabo to describe the death of Diomedes, which he also describes as « apotheosis », but in a sense that seems to transcend the reality of his « death ». « Some authors add to the subject of Diomedes that here he had begun to dig a canal leading to the sea, but having been called back to his homeland he was surprised by death and left this and many other useful undertakings unfinished. This is a first version about his death; another makes him stay until the end and die in Daunie; a third, purely fabulous, and which I have already had occasion to recall, speaks of his mysterious disappearance in one of the islands that bear his name; finally, one can look at this claim of the Henetians to place in their country, if not death, at least the apotheosis of the hero, as a fourth version…. « (Strabo, Geogr. VI, 3,9)].

Hermes:

– Every unfulfilled soul, my son, is subject to successive changes. The blinded soul, knowing nothing of beings, neither their nature nor the Good, is enveloped in bodily passions. The unfortunate soul, unaware of herself, is enslaved to foreign and abject bodies. She carries the burden of the body. Instead of commanding, she obeys. This is the evil of the soul. On the contrary, the good of the soul is knowledge. He who knows is good, and already divine.

[My comment: The body is a veil whose envelope prevents access to knowledge. In the body, the soul is enslaved. Not only can she not ‘see’, but she cannot ‘know’. She can only know her slavery, her enslavement. Which is already a lot, because it is the beginning of her liberation].

Hermes:

– Beings have sensations because they cannot exist without them; but knowledge is very different from sensation. Sensation is an influence that one undergoes. Knowledge is the end of a search, and the desire to search is a divine gift. For all knowledge is incorporeal.

[My comment: The sensation is imposed from the outside. Knowledge is first and foremost a desire for knowledge. To know is first of all a desire to know. But where does this desire come from, if one has no knowledge of what one can desire? « The desire to seek is a divine gift ». But isn’t it unfair to those who are deprived of the grace of this desire? No, this desire is in everyone, in latent form. The desire to know only asks to be born. It only needs to be set in motion, and it grows stronger with every step].

Hermes:

– All knowledge is a form, which grasps the intelligence, just as the intelligence uses the body. Thus both use a body, either intellectual or material. Everything comes down to this combination of opposites, form and matter, and it cannot be otherwise.

[My comment: Form and matter can be considered, as Hermes does, as a « combination of opposites ». One could also say « alliance of opposites », to mean that their whole is more than the sum of their parts. There is also the idea that intellectual representations can be described as having a « body », which itself is endowed with a spirit and perhaps a soul. This leads us to imagine a whole ascending hierarchy, of souls and spirits, up to a supreme root, of all souls and spirits. Two thousand years after these ideas began to be formulated, the Jewish Kabbalah of the European Middle Ages took up exactly the same ideas ].

Tat:

– What is this material God?

Hermes:

– The world is beautiful but it is not good, because it is material and passive. It is the first of the ‘passive’, but the second of the beings, and is not self-sufficient. It is born, though it is always, but it is in birth, and it becomes perpetual. Becoming is a change in quality and quantity – like any material movement.

[My comment: Here the influence of Gnosis is revealed. The world is beautiful, but it is not good. The assertions of Genesis are therefore contradicted head-on: ‘And God saw that it was good.’ (Cf. Gen. 1:4, Gen. 1:10, Gen. 1:12, Gen. 1:25). The first chapter of Genesis even concludes as follows: ‘And God saw everything that He had made, and it was very good.’ (Gen. 1:31). But this Gnosis can be interpreted. The world is not « good », admittedly, but it does not necessarily mean that it is « bad » either. If it is not « good » it is because it is always « becoming », it is always being « born ». Besides, one can argue that ‘Only God is good’, as Jesus said. This Gnosticism is therefore not incompatible with an interpretation of Creation as a living process, as an eschatological aim].

Hermes:

– The world is the first of the living. Man is second only to the world, and first among mortals. Not only is man not good, but he is evil, being mortal. Nor is the world not good, since it is mobile; but being immortal, it is not evil. Man, being both mobile and mortal, is evil. »

[My comment: Here, the vision of Gnosis becomes even more precise. The world is not evil, but Man is. The difference between the world and Man is that the world is always born, it is always alive and reborn, whereas Man is mortal. The only possibility, however, of escaping this fundamental evil is resurrection. If it is possible, then Man is also reborn, again, he escapes death, – and evil].

Hermes:

– It is necessary to understand how man’s soul is constituted: intelligence is in reason, reason in the soul, the soul in the mind, the mind in the body. The spirit, penetrating through veins, arteries and blood, moves the animal and carries it, so to speak. The soul infuses the spirit. Reason is at the bottom of the soul. And it is Intelligence that makes reason live.

[My comment: Man is a kind of metaphysical onion, containing deep down within him, in his inner core, a divine principle, – Intelligence, which is another name for Divine Wisdom.]

Hermes:

– God does not ignore man; on the contrary, He knows him and wants to be known by him. The only salvation of man is in the knowledge of God; this is the way of ascent to Olympus; only by this alone does the soul become good, not sometimes good, sometimes bad, but necessarily good.

[My comment: The ascent to Olympus is another metaphor for apotheosis].

Hermes:

“Contemplate, my son, the soul of the child; the separation is not yet complete; the body is small and has not yet received full development. It is beautiful to see the child, not yet sullied by the passions of the body, still almost attached to the soul of the world. But when the body has developed and holds her [the soul] in its mass, separation is accomplished, oblivion occurs in her, she ceases to participate in the beautiful and the good.”

[My comment: the loss of innocence of the soul begins from the first days of her apprenticeship in the body she has inherited. This loss of innocence can also be interpreted as the first steps in the long « ascent » that still awaits her].

Hermes:

« The same thing happens to those who come out of their body. The soul enters into herself, the spirit withdraws into the blood, the soul into the spirit. But the Intelligence, purified and freed from its envelopes, divine by nature, takes a body of fire and travels through space, abandoning the soul to its tribulations. »

[My comment: These words are a striking summary of the highest wisdom attained over tens of thousands of years by shamans, visionaries, prophets, poets, all over the world. They must be taken for what they are: a naked revelation, destined only to those souls predisposed, by their abysmal and primordial desire, to understand what it is all about].

Tat:

– What do you mean, O Father? Does intelligence separate from the soul and the soul from the spirit, since you said that the soul is the envelope of intelligence and the spirit is the envelope of the soul?

[My comment: Tat listens to his father very well, and he remains faithful to logic itself. His question is a request for clarification. The difference between the spirit and the soul and the difference between the soul and the intelligence may need to be explained more clearly. But how to explain “intelligence” to those who cannot imagine the power of its infinite possibilities? Hermes knows this difficulty well. He will try another way of explanation].

Hermes:

– It is necessary, my son, that the listener follow the thought of the speaker and associate himself with it; the ear must be finer than the voice. This system of envelopes exists in the earthly body. The naked intelligence could not be established in a material body, and that body could not contain such immortality or carry such virtue. The intelligence takes the soul as its envelope; the soul, which is divine itself, is enveloped in spirit, and the spirit is poured into the animal. »

[My comment: The key expression here is « naked intelligence ». What is revealed in these words is that even intelligence, in its highest, most divine form, can still remain « veiled ». Nothing can be said about this here, for the moment. We are only alluding to the fact that the process of ascension, of apotheosis, is certainly not finished, but that it is itself susceptible to other, even more radical forms of spiritual nakedness, unclothing].

Hermes:

– When the intelligence leaves the earthly body, it immediately takes its tunic of fire, which it could not keep when it inhabited this earthly body; for the earth cannot withstand fire, of which a single spark would be enough to burn it. This is why water surrounds the earth and forms a rampart that protects it from the flame of fire. But intelligence, the most subtle of divine thoughts, has the most subtle of elements, fire, as its body. It takes it as an instrument of its creative action.

[My comment: One of the garments of intelligence, described here under the metaphor of the « tunic of fire », is a way of describing one of its essential attributes: creative ability. But there are certainly many others. Other metaphors, other « garments » would be needed to try to account for them].

Hermes:

– The universal intelligence uses all the elements, that of man only the earthly elements. Deprived of fire, it cannot build divine works, subject as it is to the conditions of humanity. Human souls, not all of them, but pious souls, are « demonic » and « divine ».

[My comment: The idea that the soul is « demonic » is an idea that Plato communicated to us through the speech of Diotima in the Symposium. There can be found also another fundamental idea, to which I have been attached all my life – the idea of metaxu].

Hermes:

– Once separated from the body, and after having sustained the struggle of piety, which consists in knowing God and harming no one, such a soul becomes all intelligence. But the unholy soul remains in its own essence and punishes herself by seeking to enter into an earthly body, a human body, for another body cannot receive a human soul, it cannot fall into the body of an animal without reason; a divine law preserves the human soul from such a fall.

[My comment: Here we find the idea of metempsychosis. Since ages, these ideas circulated from the Far East to Greece].

Hermes:

– The punishment of the soul is quite different. When the intelligence has become a « daimon », and by God’s command has taken on a body of fire, she [the intelligence] enters the ungodly soul and is scourged with the whip of its sins. The unholy soul then rushes into murder, insults, blasphemy, violence of all kinds and all human wickedness. But by entering the pious soul, the intelligence leads her to the light of knowledge. Such a soul is never satiated with hymns and blessings for all men.

[My comment: A distinction must therefore be made between light, knowledge and the « light of knowledge ». The latter form of consciousness is the possible source of a meta-apotheosis, – for the moment, this word is a neologism, which I propose, because here it is very necessary].

Hermes:

– This is the universal order, the consequence of unity. Intelligence penetrates all the elements. For nothing is more divine and more powerful than intelligence. She unites Gods with men and men with Gods. It is the intelligence that is the good « daimon« ; the blessed soul is full of her, the unhappy soul is empty of her.

[My comment: intelligence is the « metaxu » par excellence. The Hebrews gave it the name neshamah. But what a name is, it is its essence that we must try to understand].

Hermes:

– The soul without intelligence could neither speak nor act. Often intelligence leaves the soul, and in this state the soul sees nothing, hears nothing, and looks like an animal without reason. Such is the power of intelligence. But it does not support the vicious soul and leaves it attached to the body, which drags it down. Such a soul, my son, has no intelligence, and in this condition a man can no longer be called a man. For man is a divine animal which must be compared, not to other terrestrial animals, but to those in heaven, who are called Gods.

[My comment: Aristotle said that « man is an animal who has reason (logos) ». We can see that Hermes rises several notches above Aristotle in his intuition of what man is, in essence. Aristotle is the first of the moderns. Plato is the last of the Ancients. But in these difficult matters, the Ancients have infinitely more to teach us, with their million years of experience, than the Moderns, really out of their depths in these matters].

Hermes:

– Or rather, let’s not be afraid to tell the truth, the real man is above them, or at least equal to them. For none of the heavenly Gods leaves his sphere to come to earth, while man ascends into heaven and measures it. He knows what is above and what is below; he knows everything accurately, and what is better is that he does not need to leave the earth in order to ascend. Such is the greatness of his condition. Thus, dare we say that man is a mortal God and that a heavenly God is an immortal man. All things will be governed by the world and by man, and above all is the One.

My comment : There is a strikingly equivalent intuition in the Veda. In the Veda, Puruṣa, devanāgarī : पुरुष, means « man, person, hero, vital principle, spirit » but also and foremost : « the Soul of the Universe »…

There is yet another, essential aspect.

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the death and dismemberment of Osiris, the crucifixion of Christ do share a deep, structural analogy.

iCorpus hermeticum, X.

A God with no Name


The intuition of mystery has touched humanity from the earliest ages. Eight hundred thousand years ago, men carried out religious rites accompanying the death of their loved ones, in a cave near Beijing, at Chou Kou Tien. Skulls were found there, placed in a circle and painted in red ochre. They bear witness to the fact that almost a million years ago, men believed that death was a passage.

Fascination with other worlds, a sense of mystery, confrontation with the weakness of life and the rigor of death, seem to be part of the human genetic heritage, since the dawn of time, inhabiting the unconscious, sculpting cultures, knotting myths, informing languages.

The idea of the power of the divine is an extremely ancient idea, as old as humanity itself. It is equally obvious that the minds of men all over the world have, since extremely ancient times, turned towards forms of animism, religions of immanence or even religions of ecstasy and transcendent trance, long before being able to speculate and refine « theological » questions such as the formal opposition between « polytheism » and « monotheism ».

Brains and cultures, minds and languages, were not yet mature.

Animism, shamanism, polytheism, monotheism, and the religions of the immanence try to designate what cannot be said. In the high period, the time of human dawn, all these religions in -isms obviously came together in a single intuition, a single vision: the absolute weakness of man, the irremediable fleetingness of his life, and the infinite greatness and power of the unknown.

Feeling, guessing, fearing, worshipping, revering, this power was one and multiple. Innumerable names throughout the world have tried to express this power, without ever reaching its intrinsic unity.

This is why the assertion of the monotheisms that « God is One » is both a door that has been open for millions of years and at the same time, in a certain way, is also a saying that closes our understanding of the very nature of the « mystery », our understanding of how this « mystery » has taken root in the heart of the human soul, since Homo knew himself to be a sapiens

In the 17th century, Ralph Cudworth was already tackling the « great prejudice » that all primitive and ancient religions had been polytheistic, and that only « a small, insignificant handful of Jews »i had developed the idea of a single God.

A « small insignificant handful of Jews »? Compared to the Nations, number is not always the best indicator. Another way to put the question is: was the idea of the One God invented by the Jews? If so, when and why? If not, who invented it, and for how long was it there around the world?

If we analyse the available sources, it would seem that this idea appeared very early among the nations, perhaps even before the so-called « historical » times. But it must be recognized that the Jews brought the idea to its incandescence, and above all that they « published » it, and « democratized » it, making it the essential idea of their people. Elsewhere, and for millennia, the idea was present, but reserved in a way to an elite.

Greek polytheism, the Sibylline oracles, Zoroastrianism, the Chaldean religion, Orphism, all these « ancient » religions distinguished a radical difference between multiple born and mortal gods, and a Single God, not created and existing by Himself. The Orphic cabal had a great secret, a mystery reserved for the initiated, namely: « God is the Whole ».

Cudworth deduced from the testimonies of Clement of Alexandria, Plutarch, Iamblichus, Horapollo, or Damascius, that it was indisputably clear that Orpheus and all the other Greek pagans knew a single universal deity who was « the One », and « the Whole ». But this knowledge was secret, reserved for the initiated.

Clement of Alexandria wrote that « All the barbarian and Greek theologians had kept the principles of reality secret and had only transmitted the truth in the form of enigmas, symbols, allegories, metaphors and other tropes and similar figures. « ii And Clement made a comparison between the Egyptians and the Hebrews in this respect: « The Egyptians represented the truly secret Logos, which they kept deep in the sanctuary of truth, by what they called ‘Adyta’, and the Hebrews by the curtain in the Temple. As far as concealment is concerned, the secrets of the Hebrews and those of the Egyptians are very similar.”iii

Hieroglyphics (as sacred writing) and allegories (the meaning of symbols and images) were used to transmit the secret arcana of the Egyptian religion to those who were worthy of it, to the most qualified priests and to those chosen to succeed the king.

The « hieroglyphic science » was entirely responsible for expressing the mysteries of theology and religion in such a way that they remained hidden from the profane crowd. The highest of these mysteries was that of the revelation of « the One and Universal Divinity, the Creator of the whole world, » Cudworth added.

Plutarch noted several times in his famous work, On Isis and Osiris, that the Egyptians called their supreme God « the First God » and considered him a « dark and hidden God ».

Cudworth points out that Horapollo tells us that the Egyptians knew a Pantokrator (Universal Sovereign) and a Kosmokrator (Cosmic Sovereign), and that the Egyptian notion of ‘God’ referred to a « spirit that spreads throughout the world, and penetrates into all things to the deepest depths.

The « divine Iamblichus » made similar analyses in his De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum.

Finally, Damascius, in his Treatise on First Principles, wrote that the Egyptian philosophers said that there is a single principle of all things, which is revered under the name of ‘invisible darkness’. This « invisible darkness » is an allegory of this supreme deity, namely that it is inconceivable.

This supreme deity has the name « Ammon », which means « that which is hidden », as explained by Manetho of Sebennytos.

Cudworth, to whom we owe this compilation of quotations, deduced that « among the Egyptians, Ammon was not only the name of the supreme Deity, but also the name of the hidden, invisible and corporeal Deity ».

Cudworth concludes that long before Moses, himself of Egyptian culture, and brought up in the knowledge of ‘Egyptian wisdom’, the Egyptians were already worshipping a Supreme God, conceived as invisible, hidden, outside the world and independent of it.

The One (to Hen, in Greek) is the invisible origin of all things and he manifests himself, or rather « hides » himself in the Whole (to Pan, in Greek).

The same anthropological descent towards the mysterious depths of belief can be undertaken systematically, notably with the oldest texts we have, those of Zend Avesta, the Vedas and their commentaries on Upaniṣad.

« Beyond the senses is the mind, higher than the mind is the essence, above the essence is the great Self, higher than the great [Self] is the unmanifested.

But beyond the unmanifested is Man, the Puruṣa, passing through all and without sign in truth. By knowing Him, the human being is liberated and attains immortality.

His form does not exist to be seen, no one can see it through the eye. Through the heart, through the intelligence, through the mind He is apprehended – those who know Him become immortal. (…)

Not even by speech, not even by the mind can He be reached, not even by the eye. How can He be perceived other than by saying: « He is »?

And by saying « He is » (in Sanskrit asti), He can be perceived in two ways according to His true nature. And by saying « He is », for the one who perceives Him, His true nature is established.

When all the desires established in one’s heart are liberated, then the mortal becomes immortal, he reaches here the Brahman.”iv

The Zohar also affirms: « The Holy One blessed be He has a hidden aspect and a revealed aspect. »

Aren’t these not « two ways » of perceiving the true nature of « He is »? Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhyn affirms: « The essence of the En-Sof (Infinite) is hidden more than any secret; it must not be named by any name, not even the Tetragrammaton, not even the end of the smallest letter, the Yod.” v

So what do all these names of God mean in the purest monotheism?

« R. ‘Abba bar Mamel says: The Holy One blessed be He says to Moshe: Do you want to know my Name? I name Myself after my deeds. Sometimes my name is El Shadday, Tsebaoth, Elohim, YHVY. When I judge creatures my name is Elohim, when I fight the wicked I am called Tsebaoth, when I suspend the faults of men I am El Shadday and when I take pity on the worlds I am YHVH. This Name is the attribute of mercy, as it is said: « YHVY, YHVH, merciful and compassionate God » (Ex. 34:6). Likewise: ‘Ehyeh, asher ‘Ehyeh (I am who I am) (Ex. 3:14) – I name myself after my deeds.”vi

These are very wise words, which invite us to ask ourselves what was the name of YHVH, 800,000 years ago, at Chou Kou Tien, when He saw the sorrow of these men and women, a small group of Homo sapiens in affliction and grief, assembled at the bottom of a cave.

iRalph Cudworth, True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), quoted in Jan Assmann, Moïse l’Égyptien, 2001, p.138

iiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch. 4, 21,4

iiiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch.3, 19,3 and Stromata V, ch.6, 41,2

ivKaha-upaniad 2.3. 7-9 and 12-14. Upaniad. My translation into English from the French Translation by Alyette Degrâces. Fayard. 2014. p. 390-391

vRabbi Hayyim de Volozhyn. L’âme de la vie. 2ème Portique, ch. 2. Trad. Benjamin Gross. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1986, p.74

viIbid. 2ème Portique, ch. 3, p. 75.