Friday, February 19, 2016

The Tree of Life - Good and Evil, Light and Darkness

The dead are born, they don't die.  The worlds are switched in our eyes.
We're dead when we think we are living; we start living when we die.
Fernando Pessoa, the Book of Disquiet

When talking about the Depths of Good and Evil, I want to be clear that I am not using the classical and outdated gender identities that are associated with Chokmah and Binah. I do not think men and Chokmah are Good or that women and Binah are Evil.  In fact I question the usefulness of the traditional Kabbalistic names of Chokmah, Binah, Hod, Netzach etc altogther, they seem to distract us from discussing the Depths themselves.*

As I mentioned in the previous post I struggle with the concept of Good and Evil because its often a matter of perspective.  Yersinia Pestis, the bacteria responsible for the Black Death, is not inherently evil; the plague years were boom years and antibiotics are evil from its point of view.  Nutrition and poison/toxin is a useful polarity, though as alchemists we are aware that too much nutrition rapidly becomes dangerous and a little bit of poison can be medicinal.  Advantage and disadvantage, or to quote the Sefer Yetzirah, Merit and Liability, might be the most flexible terms for these depths. Raziel talked about action vs inaction is the choice we face every single moment and I want to broaden the meaning of this to life vs un-life, wakefulness vs sleep or thoughtfulness vs thoughtlessness** to explore the idea more completely.

Good and Evil are traditionally associated with Light and Darkness.  In my understanding these Depths are also associated with the pineal gland and the secretion of the hormones serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin rises in response to light and vice versa with melatonin***.  Serotonin levels spike when you take certain classes of drugs and/or experience ecstasy through other means such as dance or prayer - I associate this hormone with a life lived to the full. Conversely melatonin lends itself to abstraction of the self and to the bird's eye view of your own body that happens in the dream world or OBE (similarly some people might sleep, hazily, dreamily, through their entire life or act as if it is happening to someone else).  There is no moral judgement on action vs ''inaction'' here, I am just comparing, contrasting and trying to understand them as modes of being - a dreamer lives fully in their dreams.

Individuals naturally high in serotonin do tend to live life to the max, as is commonly understood - they favour intense experiences, speak passionately and inhabit their own bodies.  Individuals with high melatonin, on the other hand, though ageless and slim, look in the mirror and find imperfection - they judge themselves from the outside, think about themselves in the 3rd person, make objects of themselves and in this way they dont live inside themselves but stand in judgement of themselves. Exploring this tension, actors tend to approach their craft from two perspectives, either from the inside-out where truthfulness and presence are central, or from the outside-in which is more like seeing yourself as a string-less puppet and where illusion and deception are the most important. An individual on the melatonin spectrum still acts in the sense of they do things, they just don't have the same type of ownership over their actions as someone with high serotonin - they experience action as the remote control of themselves.

Association and disembodiment, inhabiting and abstracting the self, presence and absence, wakefulness and sleep - action vs inaction all seem ultimately tied to the play of light on the physical body - a Depth of Light and a Depth of Darkness.  Can we say that the dimension of the observer can best be described as a Depth of Subjectivity and a Depth of Objectivity?  People do not talk much about the differing types of consciousness that exist in the spectrum of humanity but believe me there are people out there who live like objects (you might be one!) and people who live like subjects and consequently they have very different modes of thinking about themselves.

I feel as I am always on the verge of waking up.
Fernando Pessoa, the Book of Disquiet

*Bearing in mind that the Sefirot are not described by these traditional titles in the Sefer Yetzirah and these terms first appear nearly a thousand years later.  It can be read from the Sefer Yetzirah that the Sefirot really refer to the vowels.
**Tzvi imagined a duality within the infinite which was torn between the thoughtful infinity and the thoughtless infinity.
***The clock can be set to opposite cycles for those who work at night but they do suffer health problems as a consequence.


  1. I'll try to post something about my understandibg of depth of good and evil in the coming weeks.

    Regarding vowels, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero states that just as the vowels are like souls to the bodies of the letters, so too are the sefirot the souls of the 32 paths. They give life to them in the chain of emanations.

  2. Please do post. My SY teacher made us attribute depths to Sefirot early on in the course. Making difficult decisions about concepts helps forced my hand into getting dirty with it rather than ruminating on the endless possibilities if you you understand me. Its what lead me to that central axis of time on the Saadia Tree as you could argue the depths of good and evil are better attributed to Kether and Malkuth. Anyway I look forward to your thoughts.

    The Depths certainly delineate the space wherein which astrological forces can manifest.