Chapter 5 The Nature and Core Structure of the Soul in the Golden Dawn

Now that the history and framing principles of the Golden Dawn have been discussed, as well as its relationship to some of the larger currents of esoteric thought, the specifics of the organization’s teachings concerning the soul and the relationship of human beings to the universe can be examined within this context. At its heart, the Golden Dawn was a spiritual organization structured along fraternal lines and teaching its own synthesis of the plethora of practices and schools of thought within western esotericism. One aspect of the beliefs of the Golden Dawn that was taught both explicitly and implicitly was its views on the human soul. The conception of this soul both drew from traditional views within western esotericism but also contained elements unique to the Golden Dawn. These elements can be examined in turn to give an understanding of how the soul was structured within the Golden Dawn’s body of teachings.

The core conceptions of the soul and the individual within the Golden Dawn are largely drawn from existing traditions concerning the soul present in Jewish Cabala. Given the role that Cabala played in Christian esoteric thought from the time of the Renaissance, this is not surprising. As has previously been mentioned, both MacGregor Mathers and William Westcott had already published and lectured publicly on Cabala when they began their work to create the Golden Dawn. This work of theirs included translations of sections of The Zohar and of The Sefer Yetzirah, which were key Jewish Cabalistic texts. This gives evidence of a basic competency and familiarity with the existing Cabalistic tradition, at least in its textual form. In addition to this Cabalistic work of theirs, references to the Cabala are found throughout the original Cipher Manuscript, which provided the framework for the rituals and teachings of the First Order of the Golden Dawn (but not the Rosicrucian Second Order).

For example, the first page of the first folio of the Cipher Manuscript gives the name of the order, of all of the grades within it, and terms for members in Hebrew (Kuntz, Cipher 38). The knowledge lecture of the Neophyte grade is also given in full outline with a list of the Sephiroth in Hebrew and the meanings and attributions of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (Kuntz, Cipher 58-59). These references to Cabala continue throughout the Cipher Manuscript in both text and diagrams. With their existing knowledge of Cabala and the references in the Cipher Manuscript, the reasons are clear why the Cabala would play such a primary role within the organization and its teachings as developed by Mathers and Westcott.

Those members who have received the Theoricus grade within the Golden Dawn studied the “Third Knowledge Lecture” and were tested on its contents before they could advance to the Practicus grade. This lecture contains material that members are expected to memorize and exists as an outline in the Cipher Manuscript. The fully developed form of this lecture begins with a brief discussion of the soul, which is one of the simplest and clearest given to members of the Golden Dawn as they pass through the grades:

The soul is divided by the Qabalists into three Principal Parts: —

  1. NESCHAMAH The Highest Part, answering to the Three Supernals.
  2. RUACH The Middle Part, answering to the six Sephiroth from CHESED to YESOD, inclusive.
  3. NEPHESCH The lowest, answering to MALKUTH.

    NESCHAMAH answers to the higher aspirations of the Soul.

    RUACH answers to the mind and reasoning powers.

    NEPHESCH answers to the animal instincts.

    CHIAH answers to CHOKMAH, YECHIDAH to KETHER, while NESCHAMAH itself is referred to BINAH. (Regardie, The Golden Dawn 67)

The same section of the lecture in the original outline in the Cipher Manuscript simply states:

Parts of the Soul.

Kether = Yechidah.

Chokmah = Chiah.

Binah = Neschamah.

Tiphereth & Five Others [Chesed, Geburah, Netzach, Hod and Yesod] = Ruach.

Malkuth = Nephesch. (Kuntz, Cipher 110)

This is a mapping of the parts of the human soul as envisioned within Cabala and the Golden Dawn to positions on the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life provided a unifying symbolism for all of the ritual activities of the Golden Dawn and this was extended to its spiritual teachings on the soul as well. As was discussed in Chapter Four, the cabalists of the Golden Dawn saw the Tree of Life as being a unifying image or map of the universe in its entirety. The universe contained in this map was both the external macrocosm that all of humanity exists within (along with the sun, planets, and the rest of the physical world) but also the microcosm in the form of individual human beings, including their interior self or soul. This mapping is an example of the principle of correspondences, which plays such a strong role in the thought of western esotericism.

Referring to Figure 4 as a reference illustration of the layout of the Tree of Life in relation to the above description from the Golden Dawn lecture, the “Three Supernals” associated with the Neschamah in the lecture are the three topmost sephiroth on the Tree of Life: Kether, Chokmah, and Binah. These three are the furthest away from Malkuth at the bottom of the Tree, which represents the physical world or the maximum plurality of existence, and they are the closest to the undifferentiated and divine unity seen to exist above the Tree. The sephiroth associated with Ruach as described above are the remainder of the Tree of Life with the exclusion of Malkuth. These are, in order, Chesed, Geburah, Tiphereth, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod. The Nephesch is associated with the single remaining sephira, Malkuth. In addition to these three “Principal Parts”, this section of the “Third Knowledge Lecture” mentions two more parts, the Chiah and Yechidah, as does the original outline. The result of this is that the first three sephiroth on the Tree of Life each have a part of the soul associated with them, the next six sephiroth collectively have one part of the soul, and the final sephira has one part.

Fig. 4. The Soul on the Tree of Life.
Fig. 4. The Soul on the Tree of Life.

These names are likely to be without any particular meaning outside of students of the Cabala historically but they are not the creation of the Golden Dawn. They are inherited from the larger Jewish tradition of Cabala. Scholem discusses these same parts of the soul in his text, Kabbalah, where he states:

… the Zohar refers to three essentially different parts of the soul that form a sequence from lower to higher and are designated by the Hebrew terms nefesh, ru’ah, and neshamah… The nefesh or first element is to be found in every man… and is the source of his animal vitality… it is equally the property of all human beings. The two other parts of the soul … are postnatal increments that are found only in the man who has awakened spiritually and made a special effort to develop his intellectual powers and religious sensibilities. The ru’ah or anima is aroused at an unspecified time when a man succeeds in rising above his purely vitalistic side. But it is the highest of the three parts of the soul, the neshamah or spiritus, which is the most important of all … it opens his higher powers of apprehension, especially his ability to mystically apprehend the Godhead and the secrets of the Universe. Thus, it is the intuitive power that connects mankind with its Creator. (155)

Scholem also mentions that the later Cabalists following the tradition of Isaac Luria added two additional parts of the soul, “hayyah” and “yehidah,” as higher parts of the soul above the first three (Mystical Shape 230). Sanford Drob states in Symbols of the Kabbalah that the later Cabalists recognized five levels of soul, which are “the nefesh, or bodily soul; the ruach, which corresponds to the heart and emotions; the neshamah, corresponding to the brain; the chaya or “living soul,” and the yechida, meaning “united,” referring to the Godly soul that is united with man” (199).

While these parts of the soul and their relationships were known within the community of Jewish Cabalists, it is not immediately clear how much of this information was available to Mathers or Westcott, who were both Christians, even though they had written and lectured for their contemporaries on Cabalistic topics. Fortunately, Mathers elaborates on the soul in the introduction he wrote to The Kabbalah Unveiled. As was stated in Chapter Four, this book is a translation from the Latin “Kabbala Denudata” of Knorr von Rosenroth, a Renaissance Christian Cabalist, and it contained “not only important sections of The Zohar but sizable excepts from Lurianic Kabbalah as well” according to Scholem (Kabbalah 200). The inclusion of Lurianic material with The Zohar helps explain why elements of this material occur in the Golden Dawn’s work.

In his introduction, Mathers discusses his personal view of Cabala including its understanding of the soul. As Mathers is one of the primary founders of the Golden Dawn and the creator of its rituals from the Cipher Manuscript outlines, his thoughts are especially relevant when examining Golden Dawn ritual material. In his introduction, he states:

Therefore, as the outward form of man corresponds to the Tetragrammaton, so does the animating soul correspond to the ten supernal Sephiroth; and as these find their ultimate expression in the trinity of the crown, the king, and the queen, so is there a principle division of the soul. Thus, then, the first is the Neschamah, NShMH, which is the highest degree of being, corresponding to the crown (Kether), and representing the highest triad of the Sephiroth, called the intellectual world. The second is the Ruach, RVCh, the seat of good and evil, corresponding to Tiphereth, the moral world. And the third is Nephesch, NPSh, the animal life and desires, corresponding to Yesod, and the material and sensuous world. (34)

The reference to crown, king, and queen here are references to the sephiroth Kether, Chokmah, and Binah, the three supernal sephiroth at the top of the Tree, which represents its highest region as a triad and the distinct portion of the Tree closest to God.

The primary difference between what is stated in the “Third Knowledge Lecture,” written years later, and what is in his introduction is that the Nephesch is associated with Yesod, the ninth sephira, and not Malkuth, the tenth, by Mathers. This is most likely because the Golden Dawn rituals were created from the framework provided by the Cipher Manuscript, which explicitly associated the Nephesch with Malkuth and not Yesod, which it placed with the Ruach. This would have superseded the explanation that Mathers wrote before he had seen the manuscript and before the Golden Dawn was created. (Coincidentally, this is also an argument against Mathers being the creator of the Cipher Manuscript.) Mathers also associates Neschamah directly with Kether instead of two the first three sephiroth as a whole or with Binah, the third sephira, but the Cipher Manuscript does this as well.

To this discussion, Mathers adds in his introduction that the soul’s triplicity of forms (as Neschamah, Ruach, and Nephesch) finds its completion, as in all things Cabalistic according to Mathers, in a fourth, which is the Chiah. This is to mirror the four letters of the Tetragramaton, which is the sacred four-lettered name of God in Hebrew, spelled with the letters Yod, Heh, Vau, and Heh. This name is the ultimate source of the English, “Jehovah” (for the pervading interest in the Tetragramaton in Christian Cabala see page 200 of Scholem’s Kabbalah). Mathers also makes an explicit reference to Eliphas Levi’s text, Clef des Mysteres, which states that the Neschamah is pure spirit, the Ruach is the soul, and the Nephesch is the “plastic mediator” (36). It is worth noting that the Nephesch is not identified with the physical body but with the vital force the supports the body. Levi, as quoted by Mathers, states that “The body is the veil of Nephesch, Nephesch is the veil of Ruach, Ruach is the veil of the shroud of Neschamah” (36).

The Golden Dawn circulated a number of papers amongst members to elaborate on or explain various topics of interest or symbolism used within the organization. These were written by senior members of the order to present more information than what was made available in the official knowledge lectures of the grades, which were often quite limited (King 10-11). These were called “Flying Rolls.” In the tenth of these, which is titled, “Concerning the Symbolism of Self-Sacrifice and Crucifixion contained in the 5=6 Grade,” there is discussion of these parts of the soul at much greater length (King 131). This text was written by Mathers and given to provide a more general explanation of both the soul and the symbolism of the Adeptus Minor ritual (the 5=6 Grade) to the newly initiated adept member. These adepts were the full members of the order who had worked their way through the preliminary grades (Neophyte, Zelator, etc.), passed through the Portal grade, and joined the Second Order through the Adeptus Minor initiation ceremony. This Second Order was Rosicrucian and was where the techniques of practical mysticism, as envisioned by the Golden Dawn, were taught to the members.

As a Rosicrucian lecture, this paper is also entirely a creation of Mathers and not drawn from the Cipher Manuscript. No Rosicrucian material is present in the Cipher Manuscript except for a single diagram of a cross with a rose. The Cipher Manuscript only gives material for the non-Rosicrucian First Order with the Rosicrucian Second Order being developed independently by Mathers in 1892 as discussed in Chapter 3. The tenth Flying Roll states, “In Chiah is the beginning of the Self of Man. The real Self is in Jechidah, and its presentment in Chiah” (King 147). The Jechidah (Yechidah) is placed in Kether, at the highest point of the Tree of Life. The text goes on to state that the Jechidah is the “Divine Consciousness” and:

Ruach is the human Consciousness and human Will. In Jechidah is the Divine Will; so that the Human Will is like the King of the material body. The automatic consciousness…has to do with the lower passions and desires… The Human Will which should be seated in Tiphereth, in the heart, is attracted to contemplation of, and union with, the automatic Consciousness so that human Consciousness abdicates its throne and becomes automatic. (King 147)

In discussing the relationship of the individual, as the microcosm, to the Tree of Life and divinity, it also states:

If therefore we seek to institute an analogy between the Microcosm it will be seen that Nephesch refers to Malkuth and Assiah: Ruach will refer to Yetzirah, which is the World of Formation, therefore the formative principle operating in Ruach gives form to all ideas, and is that which weighs, balances and works in things… Neschamah = the higher aspirations of the Soul, which aspire to the ideal… If the Ruach overpowers the Neschamah; if the Neschamah seeks the lower good, both will be ruined … but you cannot touch the Yechidah part of you with your Ruach, you must use the consciousness of the Neschamah. This Yechidah will, together with the Chiah, be the “Higher Genius,” though this again will not be the highest Soul, and answering to the highest part of Yechidah, cannot be touched by Neschamah. There must be a mode of transferring the synthesis of the consciousness making up the Man, — to this upper Sephiroth. The Fall, which cut away the higher from the lower Sephiroth in Daath, was also our descent into this life, as it were, from that Upper and Higher Soul. Therefore our object is to get into contact with that again, which is only to be done through the Neschamah, which is the Divine Mother of the Soul… (King 133-134)

The idea being presented here is that rather than being focused on truth and the divine eternal, the human will, and by extension, human consciousness, becomes focused on the passions of the mortal body, abdicating its throne, symbolically situated in the sephira Tiphereth. Consciousness descends to a focus on the physical world, which is downwards on the Tree of Life, rather than on the home of divinity and the parts of the soul closest to it at the top of the Tree. As will be discussed later, the symbolic resumption of this throne and the necessary movement of the human will and consciousness to the sephira Tiphereth is an essential part of the work of the adept member as viewed within the Golden Dawn.

Each of the different parts of the soul must be used in turn to communicate with the next higher one in the hierarchy of parts presented here and as displayed in Figure 4. The normal human consciousness, as it is in daily life for the uninitiated person, focuses on the physical world and the body. It cannot communicate with divinity or with the Yechidah that dwells in contact with divinity at the top of the Tree of Life. The Ruach of the adept turns away from the passions of the body on the lower part of the Tree and towards the divine world. The Ruach communicates with the Neschamah in the sephira Binah and, eventually, moves the consciousness of the individual, the “synthesis of the consciousness making up Man,” to the Neschamah there. This, in turn, communicates the Chiah in Chokmah. The higher portions of the Chiah can communicate with the Yechidah, and from there, to the ultimate divinity, God, above the Tree of Life. This divinity is envisioned as a limitless light, which is the origin of all creation (Mathers, Kabbalah 20).

If the passions of the body as the Nephesch are focused on the sephira Malkuth, the Ruach is centered on Tiphereth, the Neschamah on Binah, the Chiah on Chokmah, and the Yechidah on Kether. In the beliefs of the Golden Dawn, at each level the synthesis of consciousness, the individual conscious self of the adept, is centered at the new location, allowing the individual to perceive and act within the universe from this new point of consciousness. As the initiates of the Golden Dawn symbolically moved up the Tree of Life through the initiation ceremonies of the grades of the order, they eventually arrived in Tiphereth with the Adeptus Minor ceremony. It is no coincidence that this grade is identified with that sephira, the home of the Ruach, and it is also the point where the initiate enters the Second Order of the Golden Dawn, where the spiritual practices of the order are taught.


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