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Hermetic Library discussions
Yesod means “foundation”, and that is what Yesod is: it is the hidden infrastructure whereby the emanations from the remainder of the Tree are transmitted to the sephira Malkuth. Just as a large building has its air-conditioning ducts, service tunnels, conduits, electrical wiring, hot and cold water pipes, attic spaces, lift shafts, winding rooms, storage tanks, a telephone exchange etc, so does the Creation, and the external, visible world of phenomenal reality rests (metaphorically speaking) upon a hidden foundation of occult machinery. Meditations on the nature of Yesod tend to be full of secret tunnels and concealed mechanisms, as if the Creation was a Gothic mansion with a secret door behind every mirror, a passage in every wall, a pair of hidden eyes behind every portrait, and a subterranean world of forgotten tunnels leading who knows where. For this reason the Spiritual Experience of Yesod is aptly named “The Vision of the Machinery of the Universe”.
Many Yesod correspondences reinforce this notion of a foundation, of something which lies behind, supports and gives shape to phenomenal reality. The magical image of Yesod is of “a beautiful naked man, very strong”. The image which springs to mind is that of a man with the world resting on his shoulders, like one of the misrepresentations of the Titan Atlas (who actually held up the heavens, not the world). The angel order of Yesod is the Cherubim, the Strong Ones, the archangel is Gabriel, the Strong or Mighty One of God, and the God-name is Shaddai el Chai, the Almighty Living God.
The idea of a foundation suggests that there is a substance which lies behind physical matter and “in-forms it” or “holds it together”, something less structured, more plastic, more refined and rarified, and this “fifth element” is often called aethyr. I will not attempt to justify aethyr in terms of current physics (the closest concept I have found is the hypothesised Higgs field); it is a convenient handle on a concept which has enormous intuitive appeal to many magicians, who, when asked how magic works, tend to think in terms of a medium which is directly receptive to the will, something which is plastic and can be shaped through concentration and imagination, and which transmits their artificially created forms into reality. Eliphas Levi called this medium the “Astral Light”. It is also natural to imagine that mind, consciousness, and the soul have their habitation in this substance, and there are volumes detailing the properties of the “Etheric Body”, the “Astral Body”, the “Causal Body” [1,2] and so on. I don't take this stuff too seriously, but I do like to work with the kind of natural intuitions which occur spontaneously and independently in a large number of people - there is power in these intuitions - and it is a mistake to invalidate them because they sound cranky. When I talk about aethyr or the Astral Light, I mean there is an ideoplastic substance which is subjectively real to many magicians, and explanations of magic at the level of Yesod revolve around manipulating this substance using desire, imagination and will.
The fundamental nature of Yesod is that of interface; it interfaces the rest of the Tree of Life to Malkuth. The interface is bi-directional; there are impulses coming down from Kether, and echoes bouncing back from Malkuth. The idea of interface is illustrated in the design of a computer system: a computer with a multitude of worlds hidden within it is a source of heat and repair bills unless it has peripheral interfaces and device drivers to interface the world outside the computer to the world “inside” it; add a keyboard and a mouse and a monitor and a printer and you have opened the door into another reality. Our own senses have the same characteristic of being a bi-directional interface through which we experience the world, and for this reason the senses correspond to Yesod, and not only the five traditional senses - the “sixth sense” and the “second sight” are given equal status, and so Yesod is also the sphere of instinctive psychism, of clairvoyance, precognition, divination and prophecy. It is also clear from accounts of lucid dreaming (and personal experience) that we possess the ability to perceive an inner world as vividly as the outer, and so to Yesod belongs the inner world of dreams, daydreams and vivid imagination, and one of the titles of Yesod is “The Treasure House of Images”.
To Yesod is attributed Levanah, the Moon, and the lunar associations of tides, flux and change, occult influence, and deeply instinctive and sometimes atavistic behaviour - possession, mediumship, lycanthropy and the like. Although Yesod is the foundation and it has associations with strength, it is by no means a rigid scaffold supporting a world in stasis. Yesod supports the world just as the sea supports all the life which lives in it and sails upon it, and just as the sea has its irresistable currents and tides, so does Yesod. Yesod is the most “occult” of the sephiroth, and next to Malkuth it is the most magical, but compared with Malkuth its magic is of a more subtle, seductive, glamorous and ensnaring kind. Magicians are drawn to Yesod by the idea that if reality rests on a hidden foundation, then by changing the foundation it is possible to change the reality. The magic of Yesod is the magic of form and appearance, not substance; it is the magic of illusion, glamour, transformation, and shape-changing. The most sophisticated examples of this are to be found in modern marketing, advertising and image consultancies. I do not jest. My tongue is not even slightly in my cheek. The following quote was taken from this morning's paper :
Although the changes look cosmetic, those responsible for creating corporate image argue that a redesign of a company's uniform or name is just the visible sign of a much larger transformation.
“The majority of people continue to misunderstand and think that it is just a logo, rather than understanding that a corporate identity programme is actually concerned with the very commercial objective of having a strong personality and single-minded, focussed direction for the whole organisation, ” said Fiona Gilmore, managing director of the design company Lewis Moberly. “It's like planting an acorn and then a tree grows. If you create the right foundation (my itals) then you are building a whole culture for the future of an organisation.”
I don't know what Ms. Gilmore studies in her spare time, but the idea that it is possible to manipulate reality by manipulating symbols and appearances is entirely magical. The same article on corporate identity continues as follows:
“The scale of the BT relaunch is colossal. The new logo will be painted on more than 72,000 vehicles and trailers, as well as 9,000 properties. The company's 92,000 public payphones will get new decals, and its 90 shops will have to changed, right down to the yellow door handles. More than 50,000 employees are likely to need new uniforms or “image clothing”.
Note the emphasis on image. The company in question (British Telecom) is an ex-public monopoly with an appalling customer relations problem, so it is changing the colour of its door handles! This is Yesodic magic on a gigantic scale.
The image manipulators gain most of their power from the mass-media. The mass-media correspond to two sephiroth: as a medium of communication they belong in Hod, but as a foundation for our perception of reality they belong in Yesod. Nowadays most people form their model of what the world (in the large) is like via the media. There are a few individuals who travel the world sufficiently to have a model based on personal experience, but for most people their model of what most of the world is like is formed by newspapers, radio and television; that is, the media have become an extended (if inaccurate) instrument of perception. Like our “normal” means of perception the media are highly selective in the variety and content of information provided, and they can be used by advertising agencies and other manipulative individuals to create foundations for new collective realities.
While on the subject of changing perception to assemble new realities, the following quote by “Don Juan”  has a definite Kabbalistic flavour:
“The next truth is that perception takes place,” he went on, “because there is in each of us an agent called the assemblage point that selects internal and external emanations for alignment. The particular alignment that we perceive as the world is the product of a specific spot where our assemblage point is located on our cocoon.”
One of the titles of Yesod is “The Receptacle of the Emanations”, and its function is precisely as described above - Yesod is the assemblage point which assembles the emanations of the internal and the external.
In addition to the deliberate, magical manipulation of foundations, there are other important areas of magic relevant to Yesod. Raw, innate psychism is an ability which tends to improve as more attention is devoted to creative visualisation, focussed meditation (on Tarot cards for example), dreams (e.g. keeping a dream diary), and divination. Divination is an important technique to practice even if you feel you are terrible at it (and especially if you think it is nonsense), because it reinforces the idea that it is permissible to “let go” and intuite meanings into any pattern. Many people have difficulty doing this, feeling perhaps that they will be swamped with unreason (recalling Freud's fear, expressed to Jung, of needing a bulwark against the “black mud of occultism”), when in reality their minds are swamped with reason and could use a holiday. Any divination system can be used, but systems which emphasise pure intuition are best (e.g. Tarot, runes, tea-leaves, flights of birds, patterns on the wallpaper, smoke. I heard of a Kabbalist who threw a cushion into the air and carried out divination on the basis of the number of pieces of foam stuffing which fell out). Because Yesod is a kind of aethyric reflection of the physical world, the image of and precursor to reality, mirrors are an important tool for Yesod magic. Quartz crystals are also used, probably because of the use of crystal balls for divination, but also because quartz crystal and amethyst have a peculiarly Yesodic quality in their own right. The average New Age shop filled with crystals, Tarot cards, silver jewelry (lunar association), perfumes, dreamy music, and all the glitz, glamour and glitter of a daemonic magpie's nest, is like a temple to Yesod. Mirrors and crystals are used passively as focii for receptivity, but they can also be used actively for certain kinds of aethyric magic - there is an interesting book on making and using magic mirrors which builds on the kind of elemental magical work carried out in Malkuth .
Yesod has an important correspondence with the sexual organs. The correspondence occurs in three ways. The first way is that when the Tree of Life is placed over the human body, Yesod is positioned over the genitals. The author of the Zohar is quite explicit about “the remaining members of the Microprosopus”, to the extent that the relevant paragraphs in Mather's translation of “The Lesser Holy Assembly” remain in Latin to avoid offending Victorian sensibilities.
The second association of Yesod with the genitals arises from the union of the Microprosopus and his Bride. This is another recurring theme in Kabbalah, and the symbolism is complex and refers to several distinct ideas, from the relationship between man and wife to an internal process within the body of God: e.g .
“When the Male is joined with the Female, they both constitute one complete body, and all the Universe is in a state of happiness, because all things receive blessing from their perfect body. And this is an Arcanum.”
or, referring to the Bride:
“And she is mitigated, and receiveth blessing in that place which is called the Holy of Holies below.”
or, referring to the “member”:
“And that which floweth down into that place where it is congregated, and which is emitted through that most holy Yesod, Foundation, is entirely white, and therefore is it called Chesed. Thence Chesed entereth into the Holy of Holies; as it is written Ps. cxxxiii. 3 'For there Tetragrammaton commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.'”
It is not difficult to read a great deal into paragraphs like this, and there are many more in a similar vein. Suffice to say that the Microprosopus is often identified with the sephira Tiphereth, the Bride is the sephira Malkuth, and the point of union between them is obviously Yesod.
The third and more abstract association between Yesod and the sexual organs arises because the sexual organs are a mechanism for perpetuating the form of a living organism. In order to get close to what is happening in sexual reproduction it is worth asking the question “What is a computer program?”. Well, a computer program indisputably begins as an idea; it is not a material thing. It can be written down in various ways; as an abstract specification in set theoretic notation akin to pure mathematics, or as a set of recursive functions in lambda calculus; it could be written in several different high level languages - Pascal, C, Prolog, LISP, ADA, ML etc. Are they all they same program? Computer scientists wrestle with this problem: can we show that two different programs written in two different languages are in some sense functionally identical? It isn't trivial to do this because it asks fundamental questions about language (any language) and meaning, but it is possible in limited cases to produce two apparently different programs written in different languages and assert that they are identical. Whatever the program is, it seems to exist independently of any particular language, so what is the program and where is it? Let us ignore that chestnut and go on to the next level. Suppose we write the program down. We could do it with a pencil. We could punch holes in paper. We could plant trees in a pattern in a field. We can line up magnetic domains. We can burn holes in metal foil. I could have it tattooed on my back. We can transform it into radically different forms (that is what compilers and assemblers do). It obviously isn't tied to any physical representation either. What about the computer it runs on? Well, it could be a conventional one made with CMOS chips etc…..but aren't there a lot of different kinds and makes of computer, and they can all run the same program. It is also quite practical to build computers which don't use electrons - you could use mechanics or fluids or ball bearings - all you need to do is produce something with the functionality of a Turing machine, and that isn't hard. So not only is the program not tied to any particular physical representation, but the same goes for the computer itself, and what we are left with is two puffs of smoke. On another level this is crazy; computers are real, they do real things in the real world, and the programs which make them work are obviously real too….aren't they?
Now apply the same kind of scrutiny to living organisms, and the mechanism of reproduction. Take a good look at nucleic acids, enzymes, proteins etc., and ask the same kind of questions. I am not implying that life is a sort of program, but what I am suggesting is that if you try to get close to what constitutes a living organism you end up with another puff of smoke and a handful of atoms which could just as well be ball-bearings or fluids or….The thing that is being perpetuated through sexual reproduction is something quite abstract and immaterial; it is an abstract form preserved and encoded in a particular pattern of chemicals, and if I was asked which was more real, the transient collection of chemicals used, or the abstract form itself, I would answer “the form”. But then, I am a programmer, and I would say that.
I find it astonishing that there are any hard-core materialists left in the world. All the important stuff seems to exist at the level of puffs of smoke, what Kabbalists call form. Roger Penrose, one of the most eminent mathematicians living has this to say :
“I have made no secret of the fact that my sympathies lie strongly with the Platonic view that mathematical truth is absolute, external and eternal, and not based on man-made criteria; and that mathematical objects have a timeless existence of their own, not dependent on human society nor on particular physical objects.”
“Ah Ha!” cry the materialists, “At least the atoms are real.” Well, they are until you start pulling them apart with tweezers and end up with a heap of equations which turn out to be the linguistic expression of an idea. As Einstein said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible”, that is, capable of being described in some linguistic form.
I am not trying to convince anyone of the “rightness” of the Kabbalistic viewpoint. What I am trying to do is show that the process whereby form is impressed on matter (the relationship between Yesod and Malkuth) is not arcane, theosophical mumbo-jumbo; it is an issue which is alive and kicking, and the closer we get to “real things” (and that certainly includes living organisms), the better the Kabbalistic model (that form precedes manifestation, that there is a well-defined process of form-ation with the “real world” as an outcome) looks.
The illusion of Yesod is security, the kind of security which forms the foundation of our personal existence in the world. On a superficial level our security is built out of relationships, a source of income, a place to live, a vocation, personal power and influence etc, but at a deeper level the foundation of personal identity is built on a series of accidents, encounters and influences which create the illusion of who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for. There is a warm, secure feeling of knowing what is right and wrong, of doing the right thing, of living a worthwhile life in the service of worthwhile causes, of having a uniquely privileged vantage point from which to survey the problems of life (with all the intolerance and incomprehension of other people which accompanies this insight), and conversely there are feelings of despair, depression, loss of identity, and existential terror when a crack forms in the illusion, and reality shows through - Castaneda calls it “the crack in the world”. The smug, self-perpetuating illusion which masquerades as personal identity at the level of Yesod is the most astoundingly difficult thing to shift or destroy. It fights back with all the resources of the personality, it will enthusiastically embrace any ally which will help to shore up its defenses - religious, political or scientific ideology; psychological, sociological, metaphysical and theosophical claptrap (e.g. Kabbalah); the law and popular morality; in fact, any beliefs which give it the power to retain its identity, uniqueness and integrity. Because this parasite of the soul uses religion (and its esoteric offshoots) to sustain itself they have little or no power over it and become a major part of the problem.
There are various ways of overcoming this personal demon (Carroll , in an essay on the subject, calls it Choronzon), and the two I know best are the cataclysmic and the abrasive. The first method involves a shock so extreme that it is impossible to be the same person again, and if enough preparation has gone before then it is possible to use the shock to rebuild oneself. In some cases this doesn't happen; I have noticed that many people with very rigid religious beliefs talk readily about having suffered traumatic experiences, and the phenomenon of hysterical conversion among soldiers suffering from war neuroses is well known. The other method, the abrasive, is to wear away the demon of self-importance, to grind it into nothing by doing (for example) something for someone else for which one receives no thanks, praise, reward, or recognition. The task has to be big enough and awful enough to become a demon in its own right and induce all the correct feelings of compulsion (I have to do this), helplessness (I'll never make it), indignation (what's the point, it's not my problem anyway), rebellion (I won't, I won't, not anymore), more compulsion (I can't give up), self-pity (how did I get into this?), exhaustion (Oh No! Not again!), despair (I can't go on), and finally a kind of submission when one's demon hasn't the energy to put up a struggle any more and simply gives up. The woman who taught me Kabbalah used both the cataclysmic and the abrasive methods on her students with malicious glee - I will discuss this in more detail in the section on Tiphereth.
The virtue of Yesod is independence, the ability to make our own foundations, to continually rebuild ourselves, to reject the security of comfortable illusions and confront reality without blinking.
The vice of Yesod is idleness. This can be contrasted with the inertia of Malkuth. A stone is inert because it lacks the capacity to change, but in most circumstances people can change and can't be bothered. At least, not today. Yesod has a dreamy, illusory, comfortable, seductive quality, as in the Isle of the Lotus Eaters - how else could we live as if death and personal annihilation only happened to other people?
The Qlippothic aspect of Yesod occurs when foundations are rotten and disintegrating and only the superficial appearance remains unchanged - Dorian Gray springs to mind, or cases where the brain is damaged and the body remains and carries out basic instinctive functions, but the person is dead as far as other people are concerned. Organisations are just as prone to this as people.
- A.E. Powell, “The Etheric Double”, Theosophical Publishing House, 1925
- A.E. Powell, “The Astral Body”, Theosophical Publishing House, 1927
- “It's the Image Men We Answer To”, The Sunday Times, 6th. Jan 1991
- Castenada, Carlos, “The Fire from Within”, Black Swan, 1985.
- N. R. Clough, “How to Make and Use Magic Mirrors”, Aquarian 1977
- S.L. Mathers, “The Kabbalah Unveiled”, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1981
- Roger Penrose, “The Emperor's New Mind”, Oxford University Press 1989
- Peter J. Carroll, “Psychonaut”, Samuel Weiser 1987.
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