Mishkan ha-Echad

Monday 25 July 2011

Hebrew Pronunciation & Spelling, Part 1

Hebrew is a difficult language for English speakers to grasp initially, as it works very differently, particularly with its lack of vowels. However, there are a number of 'rules of thumb' that can help people considerably with it.

The Holy Tongue

The first thing to note is that Hebrew (Ibrith or Ivrithעברית) was intended as a holy language from the start, called by many the Leshon ha-Qodesh (לשון הקודש), the Tongue of Holiness. It was a language studied by Rabbis and held in great reverence, so much so that it became part of the philosophical and religious teachings of the Jews. It's very different to other languages that we might use in magic, such as Latin and Greek, as it was never intended to be spoken in everyday life. Some people objected to the idea of the language being used in mainstream society in Israel towards the end of the 19th Century, but it is now a spoken language in addition to being used for religious purposes.


Hebrew has no vowels. All 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet are consonants. This is particularly hard for many people to grasp, especially with letters like Aleph and Ayin, but it's an important point that needs to be understood from the start. I'll explain what the letters that people often mistake for vowels really are in a moment,  but for now simply recognise that they are consonants.

Vowels were implied in texts, because the texts were effectively known by heart, and the pronunciations were given orally, so there was never any real need to write them down. Eventually, after many centuries, a method of adding vowels into the text was developed called 'vowel pointings' or niqqud. This is employed in modern Hebrew, but the classical Hebrew that we use in the Golden Dawn does not use these.

Aleph and Ayin

The majority of people who encounter Hebrew for the first time in the Golden Dawn think the letter Aleph represents the English vowel 'a'. It's easy to see why people would think this and it's not helped by the fact that the First Knowledge Lecture puts down 'a' as the power of Aleph.

The truth is, however, that Aleph is a silent consonant, or, depending on the context, a glottal stop, which to most English speakers is pretty much the same thing, since we find it difficult to pronounce glottal stops. So why does it exist? It acts as a place-holder for when a vowel is implied but isn't obvious from the text.

For example, in the word Adonai (אדני) we see an initial Aleph, which doesn't actually represent the first letter 'A', but hints that a vowel precedes the Daleth. This stops us otherwise pronouncing the word as Donai.

You might notice that the second 'a' in the word doesn't require an Aleph. That's because it's not needed, since the vowels are implied between the other consonants of Nun and Yod. Esoteric students have an awful habit of putting in Alephs everywhere they see the letter 'a' in a transliterated word, but generally speaking you never put an Aleph in unless it's unclear that a vowel goes there. Most often it will be at the beginning of a word, but it also crops up elsewhere. There are exceptions to the rule, where an Aleph isn't really needed but shows up anyway, but these are occurrences are rare.

Ayin is similar to Aleph in that it's also a silent consonant or a glottal stop, and it acts as a place-holder for a vowel sound. You'll most likely see it in the middle of a word where you encounter a sharp stop in the vowel, followed by the same vowel, such as in the word Da'ath (דעת). However, you can also find it in other places, such as the beginning of a word, like Aleph.

An important point I'd like to make now is that the glottal stop that we see in Da'ath is very different from the sound we encounter in the likes of ha-Aretz (הארץ). If these were one word, instead of two, it would most likely employ an Ayin for the double 'a', but since it's two words we need to approach them separately, where we recognise a vowel place-holder (in this case, Aleph) doesn't need to follow the initial Heh, but must precede the Resh in the following word.

Yod and Vav

Yod and Vav are also consonants, but they are more unusual in that they can have a hard consonantal sound ('y' and 'v') or can be place-holders for usually very specific vowel sounds ('i' and 'o' or 'u').

Generally speaking if either begin a word they will be pronounced as a voiced consonant, such as in the words Yesod (יסוד) or Vav (וו). When they are found within in the middle of a word they are generally silent, indicating a vowel sound, such as in the words Michael (מיכאל) and Hod (הוד).

The handy thing about these letters is that they tend to allows mark the place of specific vowel sounds. For example, Yod is generally pronounced 'ee', while Vav is generally pronounced 'oh' (long 'o') or sometimes 'oo'. This is why getting the pronunciation of words right is vitally important, as it will tell you if there is a Yod or Vav there. For example, the on part of Metatron (מטטרון) is not pronounced like the English word 'on', but rather like the word 'own' instead. This tells us that there is a Vav between the Resh and Nun. The same applies for the Yod in Michael. We pronounce it Mee-cha-el, not Mick-ah-el, because of this Yod.

There are exceptions to the rule, however, such as in the word Elohim (אלהים). The 'oh' sound is present, yet the Vav is not. If I did not already know what the word was and how it should be pronounced I'd assume it was supposed to be Elhim or Elehim (a shorter vowel sound), but this is something that we just need to learn. This occurence is not particularly common, but irregularities are found in all languages (English is full of them). In Hebrew these words that don't follow the rules usually carry extra significance worth meditating on.

When a Yod is found at the end of a word it is often pronounced as a diphtong (a double vowel), most commonly 'ai' (like in the word Thai). For example, Adonai is not spelled Adoni or pronounced Ah-doh-nee, but rather Ah-doh-nie. Other examples are Chai (חי), which means 'life', and Shaddai (שדי), which means 'almighty'. Note how there's no Aleph before the Yod.

There aren't many words besides Vav that start with the letter Vav, so it almost always acts a place-holder for a vowel. The reason for this is because the letter is also used as a preposition, meaning 'and'. For example,    'light and life' is aur va-chaim (אור וחים). Whenever you see a Vav at the beginning of a word it's usually safe to assume it means 'and', but context is always key. Whenever you see a word transliterated with a 'v', it's usually the letter Beth instead (for example, Levannahלבנח), which can be pronounced as both 'b' and 'v' (more on that in a future post).

One thing that usually throws people is when they encounter an Aleph or Ayin with a Vav at the beginning of a word, such as in the word Olam (עולם). Instinctively we would spell Olam as Vav Lamed Mem, since we're using the Vav to hold the place of the long 'o' sound, but when we look at it logically we realise we cannot do this, as the Vav would be misconstrued as the hard 'v' sound, ending with a word like Valem (which, as far as I'm aware, doesn't actually exist). So we have to add a place-holder, to indicate that the Vav is silent and therefore pronounced as a vowel.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments section. Part 2 will cover letters with two sounds, doubling up of letters, and a few basic prepositions, including why they always join the following word. If there are any particular areas of Hebrew you'd like covered, feel free to ask.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Hebrew Errors in the Golden Dawn

Hebrew is one of the first things people learn when they initiate into the Golden Dawn, and it crops up consistently throughout all the grades. The problem is many people never look beyond a cursory knowledge of it and take the Knowledge Lectures at face value, but there are many errors in them and various other books that continue to this day.

Sandra Tabatha Cicero covered some of these in an excellent blog post last week, but another one I came across recently was the spelling of Haniel with an extra Aleph. Regardie's book shows the spelling as HANIAL (האניאל), but in the Tanakh, where the name originates, it is spelled HNIAL (הניאל). Generally speaking Alephs are not needed to mark a vowel in the middle of a word, but many people have a habit of putting an Aleph anywhere they see an 'a'. Aleph is not a vowel, it's a silent consonant that acts as a place-holder for a vowel (for example, at the beginning of a word) or as a glottal stop. 

A particular pet peeve of mine is when people spell Shem ha-Mephoresh (שם המפורש) as Shemhamphoresh or any other variation of that. This is what we find in the Knowledge Lectures, but it's an error that comes from a lack of understanding of the grammatical constructs in Hebrew. Shem is clearly 'name', while ha is a preposition that can mean 'of', 'the', and various other things, depending on context. In Hebrew this is spelled with a single Heh, but no letter would ever be left on its own, so it joins the next word, which obviously led to some people thinking the next word began with Heh, not Mem. Sufficed to say, this is a mistake that modern students should try to rectify. Mephoresh means 'explicit', but some people translate it as 'extension' or 'divided', which are not entirely accurate, but give an insight into what the overall phrase means.

I consider Hebrew a vital part of the Golden Dawn corpus which students could benefit from studying in more detail. Not only will this enhance their ability to write, read and speak the language within the context of ritual, but some of the grammar that people dismiss as irrelevant to magical work provides insight into the mysteries of the Qabalah that cannot be accessed otherwise. The Qabalah is entirely built up on the foundation of the Hebrew language. To dismiss it is to dismiss much of the Qabalah itself.

I will be posting a few more things on Hebrew over the coming weeks that people might find interesting. First up will be some pronunciation aides and 'rules of thumb', which will also make spelling Hebrew words a lot easier.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Balance In The Grades

As initiates progress through the Outer Order a number of obstacles can get in their way, which can distract them from the Work and slow or stall their progress. Just as some people try to rush through the grades, others might become stuck in their current grade and end up with too much of that element.

The problem is particularly apparent in the grades of Practicus and Philosophus, which relate to the elements of Water and Fire respectively. These two elements are the extremes and these grades are not on the Middle Pillar, like Zelator and Theoricus, so they are intrinsically more imbalanced.

Dwelling too long in these grades, in particular, but also in any of the other grades, can create an extreme over-abundance and imbalance of that element in a person, to the point of it being potentially dangerous. The paths leading to these Sephiroth, and certain other parts of the Golden Dawn system, attempt to mitigate the intense imbalance of these grades, but ultimately the only way to truly balance Water is to bring in Fire, and then find the tongue of balance between them in Air and Portal.

This idea of balance, which is present throughout the entire Golden Dawn system, can also be applied to the pace of grade advancements. We need to be careful not to rush and not to be too slow, as both create problems, one in not allowing ourselves time to assimilate the energies and learn the lessons of the grade (and to affect real change in our lives), and the other in not giving ourselves the necessary push onto the next stage of our growth.

Personally I have found, working with the Golden Dawn and other traditions before it, that six months is usually the time when the fullness of the element is experienced, and that spending less time means the energy has not yet peaked, while spending more time means the negative side of the element, such as lethargy in the case of Earth, starts to become manifest.

This may not apply to everyone and it is largely dependent on the amount of work a person is doing in a particular grade, along with the amount of change needed in that part of an initiate's life. But I've found it to be a good guideline to follow, both personally and for those who ask me about recommended grade time.

This partially explains why the minimum times for the grades in the original order were so little. Initiates might spend as little as three or even one month in a grade. Things have changed somewhat since then, as there tends to be a lot more in the Outer Order nowadays than in the original Golden Dawn, but there is a time when an initiate, and whoever is in charge of them in their Temple, needs to ask what is holding their advancement back and try to address it before it becomes a bigger problem.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Start Your Own Temple

One of the things I encounter frequently on forums and through emails are requests for information about local temples which prospective candidates can approach. Often these requests are coupled with complaints about there being no Golden Dawn presence in their area.

So, start your own temple. If you think about it, all of the existing temples today were started when someone took some initiative. They got a few people together and made their own temple. Some even formed their own order, others joined an existing order, and others yet decided to remain independent.

It's easier than you'd think. Simply get a few like-minded people together in your area or country, start a study group, and let it develop from there. Some people might not want it to become more formal, in which case you could employ a study group as a kind of outer court to the temple, but ultimately if you want to get things going you have to take some risks.

You cannot wait for the Golden Dawn, or any tradition, to come knocking on your door with an invite. Temples don't simply spring up when and where you need them. They take a lot of work to start and particularly to keep active, but they are extremely rewarding.

You need to ask yourself how much you want a local temple. If you're not prepared for the kind of work involved, then going further afield might be your only option. It does beg the question though - are you only looking to take from a temple rather than give back to it? You'd be surprised at how much you gain when you put the effort into creating or helping to create a temple, and the subsequent running of it.

Some books that I'd recommend for those considering this option are Inside A Magical Lodge by John Michael Greer and Gathering The Magic by Nick Farrell.

Friday 1 July 2011

Introduction to Ritual of Tiqqun

My Ritual of Tiqqun is in the latest issue of Hermetic Virtues, but the Introduction was left out, so here it is in full for those who might find it useful explaining a bit about what the ritual is all about:

Tiqqun (or Tikkun) is one of the pivotal teachings of the Qabalah, receiving a lot of attention in the original Jewish writings, but it has often been forgotten or barely explored in the Hermetic tradition, despite it being a vital aspect of theory and practice.

Tiqqun means “Restoration” or “Repairing” and is often coupled with the word Olam, referring to the Restoration of the World. This has a particular importance in the Lurianic tradition, where the teaching on the Breaking of the Vessels includes directions on employing prayer and ritual to restore the Tree to its former glory.

A particular focus is the state of Malkuth as a “pendulum” Sephirah, having fallen from its previous position much higher in the Tree. Now it borders on the Qlippoth, in some ways being the crown of the Qlippothic Tree, always yearning to reach up to Tiphareth.

The link between Tiphareth and Malkuth is one of the Qabalah's numerous mysteries, akin to that of Malkuth and Kether, which, when meditated and reflected upon yields many insights into the workings of the Tree, the self, and the world.

The Golden Dawn emphasises this link often, with the balance of forces between the Hierophant in Tiphareth and the Hiereus in Malkuth. Many of the rituals and initiations reinforce this link and even the most basic of rituals, the Qabalistic Cross, has a hidden element in holding the hand at Tiphareth when vibrating “Malkuth”, symbolically and energetically raising the fallen Sephirah up.

The following ritual is intended to bring the concept of Tiqqun more overtly into a Golden Dawn setting, with an aim to restore the Malkuth of the magicians participating and, by proxy, the Malkuth of the world.

It is modelled on the Neophyte Ceremony, using the Z-2 formula as a framework. The Hiereus, representing the world, becomes the Candidate, who must rise from darkness to light. For the benefit of those who want to see how each part of the ritual relates to the 0=0, the Z-2 form is given as an appendix at the end.

Hermetic Virtues - Special Ritual Edition

A special Ritual Edition of Hermetic Virtues is out and it includes quite a few interesting rituals (and some other articles), including a little something from yours truly. My introduction was left out, so you can check that out here instead.

The contents for the latest issue are:

+ Outer Order Ritual of the Seven-Branched Candlestick by Sandra Tabatha Cicero
+ The Magician by Harry Wendrich
+ Lycanthropy in the Golden Dawn Tradition by John Michael Greer
+ The Golden Dawn Bornless Invocation by Aaron Leitch
+ Opening the Temple in Malkuth First Part - Opening Malkuth by Jayne Gibson
+ Practice Ritual for opening the Elemental Grades in the Outer by Frater A.M.
+ The unpublished original GD method of consecrating a sword by Nick Farrell
+ Scrying Mirror Consecration Ritual by Samuel Scarborough
+ The Three Courts of the Seven Sisters; into the Vault of Enoch by Frater L
+ Ritual of Tiqqun by Dean Wilson

Check it out at the Hermetic Virtues website.

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