The Sepher Yetsira as a Manual of Magic

by A. C. George

The Sepher Yetsira (SY for short) is a foundation text underlying QBLH wisdom, although technically not included in its corpus. The title is often translated as Book of Creation- or Formation- which gives the impression of a religious work. It is, in fact, described as such where Biblical Deity established creation via ten “sephirot belimah” (SPIRVTh BLIMH) and twenty two autyot (AVThYVTh). A simplest interpretation associates the sephirot to numbers from one to ten and the signs to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The word yetsirah (YTsIRH), however, comes from a root meaning “to shape”, which does not imply creation ex nihilo, but the creation of form from a pre-existing medium. The image, according to the lexicon, is of a potter forming a pot out of clay, or a woodworker carving an idol from a tree limb. Divine creation, on the other hand, has no pre-existing medium. Either it is out of nothing, or from the nature of Divine Being Itself. The latter outcome leads to the divine identity of creation itself; a belief known as Pantheism.

The SY is a fascinating albeit cryptic text in all its redactions, as it has elements of alchemy, magic, mystical practice as well as the religious symbolism that made it such valuable source material for the later variegated works under the label QBLH. The text and endless commentaries on it are easy to look up these days, something I encourage the interested reader to do, for the sake of better understanding the underlying context of this exposition.

Suffice it to say, the original text was thought to be around 250 words- compared to the 1300 to 2500 word count of existing versions. New material was obviously added over the ten centuries leading to the oldest known copy to date. Our work does not involve the copies that I have examined quite thoroughly. It covers a different and rather novel territory. The verses of the text transliterated, translated and analyzed in this series of posts are extracted from a modern incarnation of the SY.

This was compiled through the extended scholarship of Dr. A. Peter Hayman as a sort of experiment to reconstruct what a version of the text during the Talmudic period might look like. The result is an SY more concise and streamlined than even the shortest canonical version, although Hayman insists on refusing to identify his work as a genuine edition of the Sepher Yetsirah. It is 850 words long, and stands in length between the speculated word-count of the original and the 1300 words of the shortest official text. That’s a difference of at least 450 words. Do these clarify or alter the originally intended context?

If the SY was originally composed two millenia ago, it was most likely an oral teaching put to writing before vowel signs were introduced into Hebrew. As such, even the letter spacing of such a non-canonical text could be ambiguous. Interpreting the written word under those conditions, even for a native speaker, would be a guessing game without a given context upon which to base one’s discerning comprehension. With original context either lost or at the mercy of those opposed to it- highly likely given the tumultuous historic events of the period- the result would be anything but what the original author(s) would have intended. Understanding the esoteric meaning of the SY from the perspective of the existing genuine edits, therefore, restricts the context to that assumed or intended by the many editors of the text.

Then there is the Hayman experiment, which invites us to examine the material common to all edits. This in turn offers an opportunity to perform another experiment: to translate this “earliest recoverable” text of the SY under the context of esoteric alchemical cultivation practices and magical application. If the result is utter nonsense, the experiment is over. If, on the other hand, the discernment, interpretation and analysis of the text can extract from it a working esoteric methodology that can be tested, formalized and applied in a modern format…then we have something worth any additional effort to explore further.

One requirement for successfully applying esoteric context is an in-depth familiarity with the topic. Theoretical knowledge is insufficient for two reasons: a) it doesn’t begin to cover the nuances of occult reality to separate fact from fiction and workable tradition from media hyped speculation, and b) it tends to result in application that is nothing more than an intellectual exercise. Thus testing the methodology resulting from said interpretation of the text would be a waste of time at best. The oral tradition would likely reflect methods used by shamans and mystics the world over to this day, as opposed to the ceremonial type of magic and intellectualized practices predominant in modern QBLH.

That is not to say that esoteric cultivation is completely absent from the credited versions of the work. The well-known story of the Golem of Prague is a description of magic derived from the SY, which in that instance did serve as a Manual of Shaping (reality). The SY certainly advocates using the power of word, meditation and focus of will as well as breathing regulation and visual imaging. The Hayman version simply removes much of the gloss of later commentary incorporated as genuine text. What remains may not be the original, thought to be composed two millennia ago- out of an oral tradition dating back to the Patriarch Abraham. It may not even be in the precise likeness of any former- lost- version of genuine text. It is, however, still Sepher Yetsirah in terms of content.

Forthcoming posts will examine verses of the Hayman text in a specific format. That includes a transliteration of the Hebrew verse into Latin letters, followed by a translation, followed by commentary; the latter intended to clarify the translation and meaning of the corresponding verse. At the end of this text we provide a chart equating Hebrew letters to Latin equivalents for the convenience of those who wish to explore the forthcoming posts. For now my intention is to examine a verse or two per post, and to cover the first thirteen verses (out of forty-one), with the caveat that plans are subject to change, at least where the details are concerned.

The first is an introductory verse. The other twelve pertain to the OShR SPIRVTh BLIMH, whose meaning will be clarified in subsequent posts. When deemed necessary alternative word translations or clarifications are offered in brackets without italics. In the case of numbers and words with semantic ambiguity, such as divine names, we will resort to letter by letter analysis, based on the work of Carlo Suares and the letter glyph interpretations of Early Semitic. Combining the information with experience in esoteric methodology, we hope to extrapolate a system of inner alchemy (esoteric cultivation) and its application based on at least a portion of this earliest available text of the Sepher Yetsirah.

Aside from the Hebrew of Hayman’s extrapolated text, available in the public domain, the material provided here is original. Dr. Hayman himself did not translate his Earliest Recoverable Text into English, at least to my knowledge, but there is at least one public domain translation of this of which I am aware. The translation offered here diverges from that one, but isn’t completely alien to it. This is expected given the particular context involved in the work extrapolated here. Suffice it to say that, while the context employed is always that of esoteric cultivation, presenting a grammatically correct translation, as close to the given Hebrew as possible, while still maintaining contextual fluidity in English, has been top priority. All efforts are made to correct the inevitable mistakes that pop up now and again.

In conclusion I want to note that what I am describing has been a project of translation, commentary and practice involving several years’ labor overall- since 2012- although involvement was not continuous. It has been a challenging labor of love, empowerment and incredible meaning for me. Even more incredible is that the fruits of cultivation extend to horizons I could not have predicted, and which have only begun to reveal their implications in relation to other areas of esoteric interest. Perhaps this work merits more formal publication and other venues of sharing. Such a thing is demanding, in terms of time, energy and overall commitment, and asking for compensation is not where I’m at with this- at least not at this time. I have therefore chosen to explore, examine and explain the implications of the first thirteen verses, which describe a profound, concise and complete system of cultivation. This will be the topic of a number of posts to come. Thereafter, we shall see.

Hebrew Transliteration Scheme

Below is a chart of the transliterated Hebrew alphabet. This will be used in the posts on the Sepher Yetsira or wherever words in Hebrew are involved. Hebrew text is written right to left, while the transliterated version is written from left to right as in English. Transliterated Hebrew will be written in bold and English versions of Hebrew words (not transliterated, as well as directly translated text) will be rendered in italics. These words abide by a rather loose phonetic scheme rather than the transliteration format offered below.

Hebrew

Transliteration

Hebrew

Transliteration

Hebrew

Transliteration

Aleph

A

Yod

I

Qof

Q

Bayth

B

Kaph

K

Resh

R

Gimel

G

Lammed

L

Shin

Sh

Dallet

D

Mem

M

Tau

Th

Heh

H

Nun

N

Vav

V

Sammek

S

Zain

Z

A’ayin

O

Cheth

Ch

Peh

P

Teyth

T

Tsaddi

Tz