Friday, December 28, 2007
"JOSEPH SMITH AND KABBALAH: THE OCCULT CONNECTION"
It has been mentioned in comments boxes that Mormonism and Masonry are similar. Lance S. Owens takes it one step further in his article by the above title.
The article has received recognition in Mormon circles. It was originally published in "Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought", Vol. 27, No. 3, Fall 1994.
The first part of the article describes the nature of Kabbalah. Owens takes the position that it is "the tradition of the original knowledge Adam received from God" and "the secret of God's revelation to Adam." He claims that
In the thirteenth century, the oral legacy of this Jewish gnosis increasingly took written form and several Kabbalistic manuscripts began to circulate, first in Spain and southern France and then throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. By far the most important text emerging in this period was the Zohar...
Further he tells us:
Kabbalah used the term "tradition" in a radically deconstructed sense. The tradition it guarded was not a dogmatic or theosophical legacy, but a pathway to prophetic consciousness. The teachins of Kabbalah were not dogmatic assertions, but maps intended to lead a dedicated and worthy student to experiential cognition. Unlike the rabbinical tradition which placed the prophets in a past age and closed the canon of revelation, Kabbalah asserted that the only valid interpretation of scripture came when the individual passed beyond words and returned to the original vision. Though such a visionary experience was shared in full measure only by a vital elite among Kabbalists, it nonetheless was the sustaining heart of Kabbalah. In the inner sanctum of his contemplation the adept Kabbalist found--so he claimed--no less than the vision granted the ancient prophets; with them he became one. To speak pseudoepigraphically with their voice was a natural expression of the experience.
Owens uses a figure of the Tree of Life and offers explains the man-woman duality:
Not only was the Divine plural in Kabbalistic theosophy, but in its first subtle emanation from unknowable unity God had taken on a dual form as Male and Female; a supernal Father and Mother, Hokhmah and Binah, were God's first emanated forms. Kabbalists used frankly sexual metaphors to explain how the creative intercourse of Hokhmah and Binah generated further creation. Indeed, sexual motifs and imagery permeate Kabbalistic theosophy, and the Divine mystery of sexual conjunction--a hierosgamos or sacred wedding--captured Kabbalistic imagination. Marital sexual intercourse became for the Kabbalist the highest mystery of human action mirroring the Divine: an ecstatic sacramental evocation of creative union, an image of God's masculine and feminine duality brought again to unity. Of interest to Mormonism, among several groups of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Kabbalists, polygamous and variant sexual relationships sometimes served as social expressions of these sacral mysteries.
After discussing Adam Kadmon, "the first primordial or archetypal Man", and the "uncreated divine spark", he moves on to Christian Kabbalism, where he cites Frances Yates, and discusses Pico della Mirandola, the de Medicis, Agrippa, and Hermeticism.
He tells us that "The process of creation has taken place on two planes, one above and one below----The lower occurrence corresponds to the higher." It is a typical review of occultism.
In Part 2 he moves into Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, calling them "A Legacy of Occult Societies". Here the reader finds the Order of the Elus Cohen, Martinex de Pasqually, Louis Claude St. Martin and Emanuel Swedenborg, just to name a few. Here he tells us
From this fertile bed sprang numerous occult fraternities and societies: socities Kabbalistic, alchemical, magical, and Masonic. And though they generally used a Christian vocabulary, the intentions they fostered could appear antithetical to orthodox Christianity.
Near the end of part 2 he moves into a discussion of "Joseph Smith, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah". Here we are told
D. Michael Quinn extensively details evidences of Joseph's early contact with Hermeticism, though he emphasizes the folk magical aspect. He offers the Smith family's carefully preserved magical parchments and dagger, and the talisman Joseph carried on his person. One recognizes the prominent use of Hebrew on both the parchments and talisman, although the reason for this has not been put in clear context by Mormon historians: the Hebrew came from Kabbalah. As Quinn documents, knowledge necessary for the preparation of the Smith family magical implements could have been obtained from books of magic available in this time and region, and such materials might have been acquired specifically to aid magical activities associated with treasure seeking. Preparation for and proper performance of a magical ritual--including production of a ceremonial dagger or parchment--was, however, a lengthy and complicated venture demanding knowledge of an arcane vocabulary. The vast host of angels and spirits addressed in diffeent magical rituals had specific names (again drawn from Kabbalah), elaborate magical signs, and varied functions within the natural and celestial hierarchies. From this complexity, magic lore made it clear that there were definite existential dangers in getting the details wrong. It thus seems likely that in addition to information gleaned from books, family members would have augmented their knowledge by associations with individuals experienced in ceremonial magic and the occult arts. In this company Joseph Smith might have first been exposed to a person versed in the deep breadth of Hermeticism.
One individual fits this description: the "occult mentor" identified by Quinn, Dr. Luman Walter(s). Reputed to be a physician and magician (the two were sometimes closely associated in that age), Walter is known to have been in Joseph's and his family's circle of acquaintances prior to 1827. He was also a distant cousin of Joseph's future wife, Emma Hale.87 As Quinn notes, "Brigham Young described the unnamed New York magician as having travel extensively through Europe to obtain `profound learning,'" and others identified Walter as "a physician who studied Mesmerism in Europe before meeting Joseph Smith."88 Walter family records and legend called him "clairvoyant."89 If these statements are generally accurate, Walter had considerable knowledge of Hermetic traditions. During this period in Europe (and to a lesser degree in America) a physician with interests in Mesmer, magic, clairvoyance, and "profound learning" moved in a milieu nurtured by the legacies of Hermeticism. By definition, such a physician stood in a tradition dominated by the medical and esoteric writings of Paracelsus, steeped in alchemy, and associated closely with Rosicrucian philosophy.90 As an individual also interested in hidden treasures, Walter might have taken particular note of Paracelsus' admonition on Kabbalah's import...
...a work recently published by Mormon author Joe Sampson is interesting.101 Sampson evaluated Joseph Smith's writings, including the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, and noted a pattern of word and concept usage in several verses which reproduces both the common English names and the general hierarchical structure of the Kabbalistic Tree of Sefiroth.102 While Sampson carries his argument beyond what a less intuitive student might discern, several of his examples deserve consideration. And though this Kabbalistic pattern in Smith's revelatory writings may be accidental, it also could suggest some earlier exposure at least to the concept of the Tree of Sefiroth. Sampson extends his thesis by suggesting that Smith's translation of the Book of Abraham from the Egyptian papyrus was a Kabbalistic work in the classic sense. Though Sampson's development of this argument is itself cryptically Kabbalistic, his theme again deserves scrutiny. Kabbalah was, as he notes, the tradition of prophetic interpretation. It encouraged a creative rereading of sacred texts in the quest for a return to the primary vision which was the single source of knowledge and scripture. In nature (if not in content) Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon, his retranslation of Genesis, and his interpretation of the Book of Abraham papyruses all can be seen as expressions of the primary interpretive vision Kabbalah mandated from prophetic consciousness. Whether this was a reflection of Joseph's contact with Kabbalah, or just of Joseph, remains an open question.103 But beyond doubt, this interpretive activity fits within the evolved Hermetic-Kabbalistic vision of a true prophet's work.
He is speculating, of course. Yet when I remember that Joseph Smith claimed to have gotten his material from a visionary experience with the angel Maroni, and when I consider the role played by angels in Kabbalah, I am inclined to take Owens more seriously.
That brings me to the third part of the article which I will save for later.