Four Worlds, Four Gospels—Kabbalah in the New Testament.
One of the great theological debates about the New Testament is ‘why four gospels?’ We know that many more were written, including the famous Nag Hammadi scripts with writings by the disciples Philip and Thomas and even one accredited to Mary Magdalene. These were Gnostic gospels which had a very different ‘take’ on the world – believing in the idea of ‘external evil’ as opposed to the ‘all creation is good’ teachings of Genesis and of Jesus’ time.
However, there were other non-Gnostic gospels that were also rejected including The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of the Egyptians and the Gospel of the Hebrews.
It is very unlikely that the four Gospels selected for the New Testament were picked at random. There had to be a rhyme and reason—and something that would be useful for us to understand today.
In his second century CE work Against Heresies, the early Church Father Irenaeus wrote: “It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the ‘pillar and ground’ of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit.” (3.11.7).
The idea of four aspects—or Worlds—of creation is a cornerstone of the Jewish mystical tradition. Nowadays, we’ve all heard of Madonna’s studies into Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism. But Madonna’s Kabbalah is a 16th century re-write of a very old tradition which, in Jesus’ time, was known as Merkabah.
Merkabah means ‘chariot’ and the name comes from the Book of Ezekiel. The tradition itself dates back to Abraham.
The Merkabah tradition teaches that we humans exist at four levels—physical, psychological (or soul), spiritual and Divine. Each of those levels is represented by an element—Earth, Water, Air and Fire—and we draw on all of them at different times according to how we are feeling.
If the Gospel writers knew of the Merkabah tradition, then choosing four Gospels could be a way in which Jesus’ story could be told at these four different levels—literally, allegorically, spiritually and mystically.
For those who were happy with the overview of the story, then all the Gospels could be woven together in one narrative—as in a Nativity play with both the shepherds and the Magi appearing in the same story or in a Passion Play with Jesus saying ‘My God, why has Thou forsaken me?’ and ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do,’ in the same scene.
But for those who were looking for a deeper significance, or who were familiar with the esoteric tradition of the time, the four Gospels would provide a feast of different interpretations—and a much deeper knowledge of our own selves at the same time.
As metaphors for human development, Matthew represents the physical Jesus, Mark the psychological (soul) Jesus, Luke the spiritual Jesus and John the Divine Jesus.
Matthew represents the Earth World of ‘reality.’ Matthew writes of earthly power, tribe and leadership, including the importance of the right ‘bloodline’ in the family. He also highlights the physical concerns and challenges of everyday life on Earth and refers to Jesus’ physical kingship as Messiah. Jesus’ birth is told with the emphasis on Joseph’s genealogy and Joseph’s views, on the visit of the wise men with their physical gifts and King Herod’s fears over the birth of a physical King of the Jews and the consequent slaughter.
Here, the temptations before Jesus in the desert are all physical: turn stones into food, put his life in danger to prove that God would save him and the offer of the kingship of the world.
Mark represents the psychological World—the soul’s World. This element of Water demonstrates how fluid our thoughts and feelings are.
It is at this soul level that we can choose whether or not to be separate from animals (the ‘wild beasts’ in Mark’s Temptation story) in that we can become aware of free will. It is through the soul that we decide to act for good or for evil. Jesus’ temptation in Mark is a choice between his baser self and a higher level of consciousness where he may be in touch with angels.
Luke writes of the Spiritual World represented by the element of Air.
Luke is a very feminine account of Jesus’ life that strongly features his mother and his female friends. It contains nineteen stories about women as compared to four or five in all the other Gospels. Doing so emphasises that this is the Spiritual perception of life—women’s place in the physical and tribal worlds were deemed unimportant in the Jewish, Roman and Greek worlds of Jesus’ time but, at the spiritual level, the feminine in Judaism was deeply respected. The Shekhinah or Daughter of the Voice was the name given to the feminine aspect of God and it was believed to be present in all married women. In fact, without a wife to light the candles, a Jewish man could not perform the sacred Sabbath Eve service in his home on a Friday night. (In the Midrash—a commentary on the first five books of the Bible—it says that when Isaac married Rebekah ‘The light came back into Abraham’s tent for the first time since Sarah died.’
Luke’s Gospel focuses on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth; on how Mary feels; how she wraps her baby in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger.
The emphasis is on family, marriage, communication and it works in tandem with Matthew’s tribal aspects, balancing masculine with feminine. For Jesus’ temptation in the desert, it offers the same challenges as in Matthew, but in a different order which is very relevant. Jesus is told to command stone to be turned into bread; given the opportunity to rule the world and ordered to challenge God to save him by throwing himself off the Temple in Jerusalem.
In Matthew, he replies with answers from the written (physical) law and in Luke he takes a different stance, replying with God’s own authority at the Spiritual level.
John’s Gospel does not tell of any temptation; at the level of development he is writing about, humanity would have transcended worldly needs. This Gospel is the Divine World represented by the element of Fire. It tells of direct experience of God. There are no parables, similes or allegories: it is Jesus telling us straight.
For Matthew and Mark the crucifixion is full of anguish. Luke and John are focused on the mystery and the importance of a Divinely inspired right of passage.
The Synoptic Gospels write that the ‘veil of the Temple was rent’ when Jesus died. In an ordinary death, Jewish mystics taught that the veils of the two lower Worlds (Matthew and Mark) are opened to let the soul though to the spiritual World. In the case of a Messiah, all three lower veils (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are opened to give direct access to the Divine.
In Matthew, the earth quakes, the rocks are rent and bodies rise from the graves; in Mark, darkness comes down during the crucifixion and in Luke the Sun is darkened.
In John there is no physical reaction to Christ’s death but there is immediate emphasis that the next day is the Sabbath—the holy day of the Jews—and that Jesus’ body must be taken down because that is a day of Divine contemplation and sacred rest.
In the lower Worlds of his body and psyche, as represented in Matthew and Mark, Jesus is depicted as crying out at his betrayal—his physical and psychological bodies reacting as any ordinary man would. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
In Luke, Jesus is able to see his crucifixion as impersonal. There is no judgement of it or other people’s behaviour. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do … into thy hands I commend my spirit.
In John, the crucifixion is represented simply as a necessary evil on the way to new life. Without Jesus’ acceptance and acknowledgement of death, resurrection cannot occur. Jesus gives completion to his mother by giving her into John’s care and gives himself willingly to death purely as the next stage of his development as a Divine being. It is finished.
Looking at the Gospels at these four levels teaches me that I react to life at different levels myself and that comfort and happiness come from focus on the spiritual and Divine thoughts, not the daily grind of pattern and habit. The four levels of passion are also useful as tools for forgiveness. They teach me that as long as I focus on the physical or emotional pain, the harder the process is. To see the wider picture and to realise that other people probably had no idea of the level of pain they were causing with their actions is the greatest step to healing as it takes the issue out of the personal. Finally, to accept that the task is all done and dusted—whatever happened is over and in the past and it is my choice whether to call it up again and again or to let it go, once and for all—simply to die to the problem. To die to the problem means that resurrection to a new life truly will happen—even if it’s only in my mind.
The Feminine in the Western Mystical Tradition.
an article written for the Spanish magazine Escuelas de Misterios.
Kabbalah is an oral tradition; one which always stays true to its structure but which has a form which is flexible according to the times. There are many Kabbalistic texts; even so, however, within what is written and what is spoken, the place of women in the tradition has remained pretty much a mystery. Women in ancient days were less likely to write down their experiences than men and, although there is much to be found nowadays on the legend of Lilith (Adam’s first wife), not much exists on the role of the feminine within Kabbalah.
I follow the Toledano Tradition, as taught by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi who believes that the Rebbitzen was always as important a part of society as her husband the Rabbi. She just didn’t advertise it.
In my Kabbalistic novel The Book of Deborah I have attempted the show the life of female kabbalists in the time of Jesus of Nazareth. Wherever possible I have used historical precedent—and it is clear that the legendary ‘Red Tent’ of the Jewish women and the mikvahs (ritual baths) were always significant to women’s spiritual, psychological and physical welfare and not just a part of The Law.
My findings about women in the Toledano Tradition of Kabbalah are not definitive—but they are a start. It is certainly time to address what is often seen as an imbalance between masculine and feminine in the Tradition.
There is none…The feminine is simply more hidden. As it should be.
On the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the left hand column is traditionally known as the feminine side. Three sephirot have their place on the left hand pillar: Hod which equates with the planet Mercury, Gevurah which equates with the planet Mars and Binah which equates with the planet Saturn.
This gives the modern-minded female seeker her first problem! The only two ‘feminine’ planets on the Tree are Venus which is situated at Nezah, on the ‘masculine’ right hand side of the Tree, and the Moon at the place of the Ego. The Sun, which is generally seen as masculine, is Tiferet, the place of the Self. The automatic assumption, from years of teaching that the Moon is the feminine principle and the Sun is the masculine, gives the implication that the feminine is lesser than the masculine. This is not the Kabbalistic view.
On the left-hand ‘feminine’ column Mercury, messenger of the Gods, Mars, God of War and Saturn, the Tester all appear to be very masculine images. However, for all that, they are actually feminine principles.
Why? Because they are essentially passive. This will probably arouse shrieks of fury from feminists at the idea that the female is or ‘should’ be passive. Women aren’t—and were never meant to be—but the feminine is. All women are, basically, 51 per cent female and 49 per cent male, just as all men are 51 per cent masculine and 49 per cent feminine. To be told that you have two per cent more passivity inside you than the opposite sex is not an accusation of weakness.
In any case, passivity is not weakness: in the Kabbalistic view at least it is tremendous strength—especially when it is flexible. ‘Going with the flow’ is a very feminine ideology. A river may seem gentle and innocuous. It works slowly but it can grind down rock like nothing else. And, on the occasions when it has cause to flood, then it can move mountains.
Look at the power of the images of Hod, Gevurah and Binah.
Binah is the eternal grandmother image. She is the wise woman; the mother of all who understands many things. She does not have to initiate—that is the job of her parallel sephira, Hokhmah, which is the source of wisdom or inspiration. Binah grinds that inspiration, discarding everything which simply will not work. Saturn often gets ‘a bad press’ in astrology because it grinds things down in a way that can be painful when resisted. Saturn is very, very thorough but a Saturn transit simply removes things from life which are not strong enough to live. That can include a marriage, a job or a way of life. However, when the ‘useless’ has been removed, Saturn replaces it with strength and structure, building strong foundations.
Gevurah carries the same principle as the martial arts. You don’t attack; you pick your ground carefully and wait for the perfect circumstance to fight (should fighting be necessary). Once the point of no return is reached one strike, preferably using the energy of the enemy more than your own, should be enough. The warrior never wastes energy; never fights when it is not necessary and watches continually to ensure the safety of those for whom he or she is responsible.
Hod is the communicator, the trickster and the fount of information. It is also the process which stabilises the life process itself. Where Nezah ‘kick-starts’ the seasons and cycles of life, Hod keeps them going over and over again, just as they should.
When it comes to the central column, Malkhut, the Kingdom, at the base is represented astrologically by the Earth… and, in the psyche (Yeziratic World) represents our physical appearance. The Moon (Yesod) represents the ego or persona. The Sun, (Tiferet) represents the Self. These have no sexual characteristics at all.
On the right hand column the sephira which causes the most confusion is Nezah. Surely the principle of Venusian attraction is feminine? Not so!
Venus may have been a Goddess but she used masculine principles to attract. In virtually every other species on the earth apart from human beings it is the male which displays to attract the female. And even in humans the woman may dress up and put her make up on but even so the man is still expected to make the actual move. The Nezahian principle of initiating action is essentially masculine. Sex, whether the woman is underneath, on top or side by side with her lover, is a case of masculine entering feminine. You can play it whichever way you like but the female receives the male seed. That’s the way it is. The impulse of ejaculation is right pillar—and loving; the offer of the creation of new life. It is the left-hand pillar which selects whether or not pregnancy will occur. It is the feminine which decides—only when the body’s conditions are right for it.
It is no wonder that men and women get so confused nowadays. The principle of Hesed, loving kindness—the ‘giving’ aspect of us—is a masculine principle. It is traditionally the mother in a family who runs the home, imposes the everyday discipline and teaches children what is right and wrong. ‘Daddy’ comes home from work and is the one who brings treats, plays with the children, takes them out or asks for bedtime to be postponed. This doesn’t work so well nowadays because women work and some men take care of the children but the principle is still the same.
The big shift is to let go of the curiously embedded idea that doing one thing is ‘inferior’ to another. It simply isn’t so!
Just think of this: Hesed is ruled by Jupiter, the planet which also rules tumours. On the psychological body, this is at the level of the breasts. Could it be that the tendency of women to over-nurture others is one of the causes of the virtual epidemic of breast cancer in the western world? Cancer is known to be the disease of ‘nice’ people. I would, personally, go as far as saying it is the disease of people who don’t use the word ‘no.’ Breast cancer is a case in point but most cancers would appear to follow this rule.
The constant doing, doing, doing and the giving of love is an out-of-balance Hesed. Unconditional love is one thing but the imbalance comes when the love is (inadvertently) used to control. There is a tendency in cancer types to do so much for others that those they love are actually disempowered and do not know how to take care of themselves properly. Such a wish to give to excess is also a sign that Gevurah is weak. Interestingly, radiotherapy, surgery, chemotherapy are ruled by Gevurah. When such therapies work, do they, perhaps, pull a cancer sufferer back from the brink of an over-balancing Hesed by forcibly stopping them from living their overactive life of helping others? And when the treatment is effective but is then stopped and the woman goes back to her former loving and giving lifestyle, denying herself for the sake of others again, is she opening herself up to further tumours?
If women, in particular, acknowledged their true femininity—discernment and the knowledge of when ‘no’ is not only appropriate but necessary—maybe we would all be healthier and happier.
The Legend of Lilith
When I first heard the stories of about Lilith, my heart sank. Here was a powerful legend which seemed to show that women who would not take orders from man, or second place in the world, were demons.
It was hard enough to know of Eve and how she has been blamed for ‘the fall’ of mankind.
The Toledano Tradition of Kabbalah teaches that that ‘fall’ was essential to humanity’s development. Had Adam and Eve remained in paradise, they would never have experienced the pain that comes from the physical World and the misuse of free will but they could never, either, have made the spiritual climb to the higher levels through that very same free will. In paradise they were trapped with no possibility of growth.
Any parent knows that if you leave two children alone in a room with an injunction not to touch one specific thing, that is exactly the first thing that they will do when the adult leaves. I don’t think God is stupid. God knew exactly what was going to happen—and that it was an essential part of the creation process.
Legend says that Lilith preceded Eve; she was Adam’s first wife. ‘Male and Female created he them both,’ it says in chapter one of Genesis, referring to the created Adam and his wife in the Beriatic (spiritual) World, before the formation and manifestation of the physical man.
Later it says it was not good for the physical Adam (in Asiyyah—physical World and Yezirah—psychological World) to be alone, so Eve was created from his side.
The stories which have come down through Kabbalistic and Jewish folklore state that the first created, Beriatic, woman was Lilith, made as Adam’s equal. She refused to be his wife and ran away and Eve was created from Adam’s side, not from the (cosmic) dust as he and Lilith had been.
If it is Eve who is blamed for the fall from the Garden of Eden by not obeying the rules, it is Lilith who is blamed if any woman becomes uppity and wants to take over the place of a man.
Lilith refused to bow to Adam. Some say God commanded her to do so, others that Adam commanded her. Spanish Sephardi Jewish versions of the story say she wanted his power as well as her own. Contemporary interpretations say she refused to go underneath him during sex.
The two quarrelled and Lilith left Adam. He complained to God and the angels Senoi, Sansenoi and Sannangelof were sent to bring her back. She refused.
Both Lilith’s anger and her punishment are said to take many horrific forms. She is said to have married the king of the demons and to have sworn to destroy the children of her rival Eve. To this day, in orthodox Jewish homes, tokens of the Senoi, Sansenoi and Sannangelof are placed in the rooms of new-born children to protect them from Lilith’s vengeance.
Lilith is immortal. She never descended from Beriah (the World of spirit), nor ate from the Tree of Knowledge so she never had to put on the ‘coat of skin’ of the physical World as Adam and Eve did.
This refusal to bow and the wanting of Adam’s power as well as her own are the aspects of women which are still feared in ‘powerful’ women today. But I believe that the story of Lilith is open to a far different interpretation—one that can be an inspiration to women today and an example to us all in how to follow the path to God in our own, unique way.
I started by applying simple psychology which changes the whole tenor of the story. Lilith’s behaviour was similar to that of many of us today. A case in point would be the wish I used to have to carve the joint for Sunday lunch. I didn’t see why it should be ‘the man’s job’ and resented it when my widowed mother would ask my husband to carve. I thought that there was status in carving instead of realising that I was being honoured by being served.
As with many of us, Lilith’s actions stemmed directly from her own feelings of worthlessness. She must have believed that she was less than Adam. It was her lack of faith in her own beautiful feminine power and her own Divinity which made her see him as superior and to interpret the command to bow to him as proving her inferiority. Perhaps she did try to steal his power to fill the void she thought she had inside her. The great tragedy is that she never saw that doing so was quite unnecessary.
In the Eastern countries of the world, it is the great masters who bow first to their students. The host and hostess bow to the guests coming into their homes. They are not bowing because they are inferior but because they are acknowledging the Divinity in the other person. If the Dalai Lama should bow to you, would you see it as a sign of weakness in him? Surely you would see it as a sign of his great stature, compassion and spiritual humility.
Had Lilith understood the nature of the Divine within all of us, she would happily have bowed first to Adam, knowing that by being the first human to acknowledge the Divinity in another, she was Divine herself. As it was, she only saw his power and felt the lesser because of it.
That was the fall. It had nothing to do with apples.
Her lesson for women is to have enough faith in ourselves to go our own way without trying to ape the male path or steal his power. We don’t have to take the men’s service (though we may, of course, work with men in the same services). We are daughters of God and we can create our own rituals which are appropriate both to us and to the rest of the world—just as the women of ancient times did in the days before they came to believe the fiction of inequality.