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A Biography of The Shekinah by Soror Shekinah

The Shekinah is the only aspect of the Western Monotheistic Diety which is feminine. She is an aspect of Elohim, Yahweh, the God of the Jews, Christians and Moslems. Although the later incarnations of the religion under the Christians and Moslems do not incorporate the Shekinah as a female, she none the less has been and continues to be the heart and soul of the Sabbath of the Jews and the Kabbalah of both the Jews and the Magicians. Much is written about her and she is often misunderstood by Modern Esoteric Magicians. So I decided to write her story. Here then is the history, development and life of the Shekinah.

The Shekinah is used in Rabbinical Judaism as a term identifying God's nearness to man. It is his divine presence and is used in order to distinguish between the presence and the hidden persona of God. Although grammatically feminine, the Shekinah is not differentiated from God in Rabbinical Judaism. Kabbalah takes the concept of the Shekinah and gives her a sexual identity and "quasi-independence". [1]

The female and sexual conception of the Shekinah is a major theme in Kabbalah and has transformed the theology and rituals of Judaism. The Shekinah of the Rabbinical sages, as evolved by the Kabbalists, helps to maintain the possibility of human interaction with the Divine. The philosophical movement in Judaism in the late 11th Century created a huge abyss in the relationship between the Jew and his God. During this movement god began to be more and more omnipotent and less accessible. Many in the movement asserted that God in fact was unknowable and indifferent to his creations. God became an idea, an abstract concept. It is unknown whether or not Kabbalah was a reaction to philosophy or this philosophy was a reaction to Kabbalah, but Kabbalah was an answer to the widening of the abyss between Man and God by the Philosophical movement in Judaism. [2]

The Shekinah as an aspect of God truly developed in Ashkenazi Hasidisim in the 12th CE. The German Pietists extended the meaning of the Shekinah of Rabbinical Judaism, the Divine Presence of God, to include the Divine Glory or Kavod. The Kavod acquires transcendence and divine powers in Hasidic literature and takes on more responsibilities in the divine workings. The Kavod of the Hasidim is described as the power that receives the prayers. Symbols and mystical features of Hekhalot and Merkevah mysticism became united in the Kavod or Shekinah. The Hasidim began to address the philosophical problem of a knowable versus unknowable divinity by developing the Kavod.

One of the books the Kabbalist used to bridge the abyss is the highly controversial Shuir Qomah, the anthromorphic conceptualization of God. The Shuir Qomah came out of the Merkevah body of Jewish Mystical writings, 1-6th CE. In this work God is given a human form, albeit absurd and abstract physical dimensions, none the less a human body. At the time of the Merkevah this presented great theological problem for the Jews. The Kabbalist used this book to expound on the Sephiroth and the Skekinah. They add an element of Hermetics to their teachings by establishing God as a physical being with physcial characteristics mirroring mans.

The Shuir Qomah gives some fascinating descriptions of God. His beard is described as black and curly containing 9 paths with powers associated with each path. The oils in the beard have special magical properties. The same description used on the beard of God is used to describe the hair of the Shekinah, long, black and curly with again 9 mystical paths.

Gradually the Doctrine of the Kavod (Glory) develops into the concept of the Shekinah of the Medieval Kabbalist. The Kavod is identified as the created light, the first creation of Genesis, the Holy Spirit. As the Hasidim address the problem of the knowability of God, they eventually distinguish between two kinds of Glory. One kind is attributed to God in his unknowable omnipotence and the other is identified directly with the Shekinah and is referred to as the "inner Glory". This inner glory becomes the visible glory, which appears to Moses in the Bush and is on the Throne of Glory of the Merkevah Mystics. The vision of the visible glory of the Kavod becomes the aim of the Ashkenazi Hasidics. The Hasidim also associate the Kavod and the visible glory with the cherubim of Ezekiel and the "great fire of the Shekinah" that surrounds God on the Throne. From the great fire of the Shekinah emanates the human soul. (In later Kabbalah it is the union of the Shekinah and Tiphareth that creates human souls). The Hasidim refer to the Kavod as "Holiness" and "Kingdom" (the term for Malkuth) and give this light a western location. The Talmud also associated the Shekinah with the West, and the Sabbath Bride is ushered in from the West. To the Kabbalist this visible Divine Glory is the same as the one that appeared to Moses, and spoke to Noah. This is the Shekinah. [4]

The Bahir develops the emanations of Sefer Yetzirah into the Sephirotic aspects of Divine. Their meaning, symbolism and order are a major influence in future Kabbalistic works. Perhaps the most influential innovation of the Bahir is the reference to the Shekinah as a feminine principle. It introduced into Judaism the idea the God was a bi-sexual being containing both masculine and feminine sides. With the exception of the Shekinah all of the feminine aspects of God contain those attributes that are harsh and negative. The Shekinah contains all possibilities; but she it totally dependent on the Sephiroth above her.

The Shekinah is the tenth Sephirah, also called Malkuth or Kingdom. It is the emanation farthest from the Eyn Sof and closest to the terrestrial world. Like the moon, she is purely reflective and has no identity or light of her own. She is identified as divine speech, the oral Torah and the mouth of the Sephiroth:

"....Tiphareth, the voice of YHVH. This voice is transformed into speech through Shekinah, the mouth of the Sephiroth. The entire process can be imagined as the birth of divine language." [5]

She is also identified as the Holy Apple Tree, the Bride, a field, water, the kingdom, the colors black and blue, a mirror, a rose, the Throne of Glory, the Garden of Eden and the poor:

"In the Zohar it is the poor who are like God's broken vessels. They are compared to the Shekinah, because like her, they have nothing at all of their own (3:113b). As She is provided for by the other Sephiroth, so we must provide for the poor and anyone who mistreats a poor person mistreats the Shekinah." [6]

She is the culmination of all the Sephiroth above her and is their creation. She is the final He of the Tetragrammaton, the daughter of Chokmah, (Yod the father) and Binah (the first He, the mother). She is the channel through which all the other emanations filter into the earthly realm and the gate for the mystics into the divine.

"He appointed his daughter and set her in and in her garments all the different pathways. Anyone who wished to enter the palace should look to her." [7]

The Bahir refers to the Shekinah as mother, bride, Queen, wife, daughter and sister, who stands at the side of the Divine, usually associated with masculine power. [8]

"This is like a King's daughter who came from afar, and nobody knew where she came from. When they saw that she was a fine lady, beautiful and just in all that she did, they said: 'she undoubtedly was taken from the side of light, for her deeds give light to the world'." [9]

The Bahir also introduce the conceptualization of the Shekinah in familial terms.

A certain King has a good, beautiful and perfect daughter. He married her to a prince and dressed her, crowned her, and adorned her....and whenever the daughter needs her father or the father needs his daughter, they meet together at the window. [10]

The familial terms used to define the interrelational aspects of God, father, mother, son and daughter become common themes in Kabbalistic writings. The sexual symbolism begun by the Bahir develops in the relationships between the mother and father, son and daughter, and the father and daughter.

In an effort to explain sin in a divinely created world, Kabbalah shows what I believe are some of its greatest innovations. The doctrinal and theological debates that occur throughout western monotheistic religion over this issue are tackled with great creativity and ingenuity by the Kabbalist. One theory they hold is that the fifth emanation, Gevurah (Din) is the Sephirah that created evil. Judgement became so out of balance because of the sin of Adam, that it broke away and spawned the Sitrah Ahra[11], the other side. It is the side of evil and the realm of Samael and Lillith.

Kabbalah assigns the negative or harsh aspects of God to the feminine emanations. The left side of the tree, Binah, Gevurah and Hod (understanding, judgement and majesty) are collective called the Pillar of Severity. The right side is referred to as the Pillar of Mercy and contains Chokmah, Hesed and Netzach ( wisdom, lovingkindness and splendor). These negative or harsh aspects of the left as well as the more positive aspect of the right flow into the Shekinah. If the side of Severity is more powerful than Mercy, then the Shekinah can fall into evil and associate with Samael. This imbalance occurs when Israel sins. These individual acts of the people affect the balance in the divine emanations. The Shekinah being the closest to the veil between the celestial and terrestrial realms is very vulnerable to the effects of sin. Samael is in a constant battle with Tiphareth and the Shekinah over her virtue. She sometimes fights him off with the help of the other Sephiroth; however is there is much sin, she cannot fight, but willingly gives into evil. It is through the commandments that the Sephiroth are empowered to over come evil. The Kabbalist attempt to empower the Shekinah in her fight against Samuel.

Shekinah is also the harlot and great desire of Samael the devil. Samael has Lilith as his consort, but wants the Shekinah. He wants to defile her and steal her from Tiphareth. Thus the battle for her goes on between Tiphareth and Samael. The Shekinah has no, I repeat, no ideas or thoughts that are her own. She is completely at the mercy of the things below her and things above. If Israel is good, the Shekinah is uniting with her beloved, if it is bad and full of sin, then she is in Samael's bed as the harlot. The Shekinah does not control her destiny in anyway.

The Zohar explains sin through the original sin of Adam, the primordial man. Adam worshipped and partook of the Shekinah alone, and removed her from the rest of the Sephiroth, disrupting the union of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (the Shekinah) and the Tree of Life (Tiphareth). It was then that the Shekinah was first driven into exile with Adam.[12]

"YHVH Elohim expelled him from the Garden of Eden....He drove out et Adam." (Z54)

(Et is a Kabbalistic code name for the Shekinah: as Divine speech, she spells out the entire Hebrew alphabet from Aleph to Tau).[13]

Perhaps the most visible Kabbalistic influence on Modern Jewish ritual and theology is the sacred marriage of the Sabbath Bride and God, Shekinah and Tiphareth respectively. The union of the Shekinah and Tiphareth is perhaps the most important quest of the Kabbalists and the Magician. Until the Shekinah is united with her lover Tiphareth, sin will abound in the world and she-and consequently Israel-will remain in exile. It is the 5=6 formula of the magician, the union of the microcosm and the macrocosm. She is the Vision of Adonai. And the union of the two is the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.

In the writings about this love affair we see the intense passion between God and the Shekinah. The Song of Solomon is the basis of the development of this aspect of the Shekinah. It is a love affair between a man and his bride, and metaphorically between God and Israel, Tiphareth and Shekinah.

How beautiful is your love my sister, my bride, how much more

Delightful is your love than wine, and the fragrance

Of your ointments than all spices!

Your lips drip honey, my bride, sweetmeats and milk are under your tongue;

And the fragrance of your garmenst is the fragrance of Lebanon.

You are an enclosed garden, my sister, my bride, an enclosed garden

A fountain sealed .[14]

A spring of Gardens, a well of living water, flows

From Lebanon.[15]

Let my lover come to his garden and eat its

Choice fruits.[16]

Here the Shekinah is the Spring of Gardens; the well of waters flowing down to the human realm. The Song of Songs truly develops the symbolism of the Shekinah as the bride and the beauty of Tiphareth and the intense love in the unity of God. It is this unity that the Kabbalist must achieve. The union of the mystic with the Shekinah and consequently her union with Tiphareth is accomplished on the Sabbath, if only briefly. Through prayer and ritual and physical union with his wife the Kabbalist can bring about the Sacred Union. It became significant in Safed Kabbalah that physical intercourse between a man and his wife occurs on the night of the Sabbath. They believe that love in the terrestrial world was symbolic of the union in the celestial world.

Welcoming the Sabbath Bride in Safed meant going out into a field and facing West and ushering her into the synagogue. The Kabbalist Solomin Alkabez authored the Sabbath hymn Lekhah Dodi (Come my beloved), still sung today in most synagogues as the welcoming hymn of the bride.[17]

In Hasidic writings of the 18th Century the sacred union of the Shekinah and Tiphareth is combined with the personal union of the Hasidic and the Shekinah in prayer. The sexual symbolism of the union of the Bride and her Groom is applied to all prayer.

Union in Prayer
Prayer is a coupling (sexual union) with the Shekinah. Like a physical coupling it should begin with movements. Move your body when you start your prayer, then stand still and enjoy the profound communion with the Shekinah. Moving your body in worship, thus reminding yourself that the Shekinah is standing before you, will rouse you to a state of intense excitement [18]

Through intercourse with his wife and through ecstatic prayer the Hasidic are constantly working to bring about the celestial union, which will usher in the Messiah.

The Union of the Shekinah
Everyone should pray for the light of the moon to be the same as the light of the sun and for the moon to be complete, with nothing missing or diminished, for this means that there will no longer be and evil element and all the satanic powers will be destroyed,.....

If something is missing from the light that flows down to the Tree of Life, it will also be missing from the divine emanation that in turn flows from the tree. The Shekinah is called the "moon" because she has no light of her own, just as the moon receives all its light from the sun. Symbolically, the Shekinah is like a mirror, she does not have her own source of light, and whatever light she receives from comes from God.

But when the ultimate union of Shekinah and God takes place, with nothing missing and nothing lacking, all the emanations of goodness and blessing will completely and freely descend-and then all the evil powers and all the satanic elements will be destroyed.

The moon is the symbol of the Shekinah, the last Sephirah, whereas the sun is the symbol of Tiphareth, the sixth Sephirah. Tiphareth and Shekinah are husband and wife. God intended them to be of equal luminosity, but because of the imperfection of the created world the Shekinah lost most of her light. At the end of Days the equality will be restored.[19]

The Shekinah began in Judaism as a synonym for "God". Through the Bahir, Zohar, Safed and into Hasidism the Shekinah has become the Mother of Israel. Today in synagogues the Sabbath Bride is welcomed with Lekhah Dodi: although much of its Kabbalistic symbolism has been lost, it is still sung. The notion of the Shekinah and her femininity was a popular innovation. She developed as the central focus of Kabbalah and the mystic. The Kabbalist loves God though a woman that he can create in his own mind, to his own perfection. He is charged with her protection and purity. He is her father, son and lover.

As the Kabbalist converges upon the tree and makes the ascent he unites with the Shekinah. The Kabbalist and the Shekinah become one and it is through her that he is able to unite with the divine at Tiphareth. Perhaps this is what Crowley is refering to when he says aspirants to the AA are men, but brothers of the AA are women.

[1] Scholem, Gersholm; On the Kabbalah and It's Symbolism (New York/Schocken Books, 1965) page 105.

[2] [for more on this refer to Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed]

[4] Scholem, Gersholm; Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York/Schocken Books, 1954) page 80-118

[5] Matt, Daniel; Zohar, The Book of Enlightenment (New Jersey Paulist Press, 1983) page 249

[6] Ibid

[7] Ariel, David; The Mystic Quest (New York/Schocken Books, 1988) Page 93 (from Das Buch Bahir, ed. By G. Scholem)

[8] Dan, Joseph; The Early Kabbalah (New York/Schocken Books, 1986) page 29

[9] IBID, page 64 (The Book Bahir)

[10] Ariel, David; The Mystic Quest (New York/Schocken Books, 1988) Page 92 (from Das Buch Bahir, ed. By G. Scholem)

[11] [note on the Qlipoth]

[12] Matt, Daniel; Zohar, The Book of Enlightenment (New Jersey Paulist Press, 1983) page 216

[13] IBID

[14] Song of Songs 4:10-12

[15] IBID 4:15

[16] IBID 4:16

[17] Fine, Lawrence; Safed Spirituality (New Jersey Paulist Press 1984) page 33

[18] Dan, Joseph; The Teachings of the Hasidism (new Jersey Behrman House, Inc. 1983) page 110

[19] IBID page ____

The Autiot of the Shekinah by Carlo Suares
First published in Tree: 3, ed. David Meltzer, Winter 1972

According to a popular tradition, the Shekinah's first appearance is in Exodus, but that is not true. The better informed know that that schema is only derived from Ex. XXV/8, where Yod-Yod is supposed to have said to Moses: And they shall make for me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in their midst. The schema Shakhanti means nothing more than that, and is not even conditioned by the making of a sanctuary. Another appearance of the verb "to dwell," in Gen. XVI/16 is in reference to the tent of metting, and has a simple colloquial meaning.

It is not through any excess of argumentation, nor through legal casuistry, nor through dialectical reasoning in the application of hermeneutic rules that the verb "to dwell" came to have such an exalted meaning as the Manifestation of Divine Presence in the life of man, or even the Divine Immanence in Creation. It is due to the fact that the Hebrew way of thinking has always been and still is an all-inclusive, analogical perception of the One in and with all that is. When we are true to that thiking and know itss keys, as they are alive on the Autiaut, we are Qabalists, and the roots of the Jewish idiom, when such keys are applied to them, open the who range of Manifestation to the searching minds.

The root of Shaken (dwelling) or Shakan (to abide) is Ken, colloguially "Yes, this is so", with no meaning of its own: who says yes to whom, about what? But, as nearly always happens with ontological roots the idiomatic Ken suggests two opposites: something upright and honest, and something lousy as a worm. The beauty of the sacred language, when understood according to the original code, is that every schema has a full meaning of its own, in different spheres of manifestation. I will not repeat, here, the explanation of the code, that I have given so many times, in the Ciper of Genesis, in Tree II, in the Song of Songs and elsewhere: I will only give a reminder of it, as applied to our present subject.

Ken: Kaf-Noun is 20.50 in the sphere of concrete existence, the lowest potential Energy (hence its degraded colloquial meaning) and 20.700 in the Cosmic Power (hence the colloquial uprightness). Kaf, 20, is my -- or anybody's -- bodily action.

The assertion Ken links that action, either to the existential life of Noun 50 or to the universal Principle of Indetermination, Noun (final) 700. It is a positive option, a declared state of relationship either with the existential aspect of life or with the unknown Principle at stake in the universe. For the qabalist, it is both , because the qabalist's mind and body assert both spheres.

When Sheen comes here as a prefix, there is a permutation of Sheen-Yod-Noun (its complete spelling) into Sheen-Kaf-Noun: Yod, the general sign for existence becomes specified in Kaf. Sheen being cosmic, its final noun is always 700. Therefore Sheen's intervention in Ken divides it, as its intervention in Maim divides Shamain from Maim.

Now we have two meanings for Shaken. Where Kaf resists the One Energy acting as Sheen, it asserts any individual dewlling such as "my house, your house, anybody's house." Where Kaf yields to Sheen, the schema Sheken becomes Shekinah, (Sheen-Kaf-Yod-Noun-Hay), in which the final Noun becomes actual, incarnates in Yod, and is alive with Hay.

The beauty of this schema is that projection in factual existence of the Cosmic Indetermination, Noun, 700. Thus Shekinah is indeed the dwelling in flesh of Sheen, the cosmic living Breath.

But how has it come to be said, by the means of the schemata Ken, Sheken, Shekinah, that the universal organic Life dwells only in Israel? It is asserted by those very same schemata, slightly, altered into Sheen-Kof-Yod-Noun: Sekeen, a word that has come to mean colloquially simply knife. In fact, it is the cutting of flesh for th penetration into it of Sheen: the circumcision according to the Hebrew Covenant.

(For the explanation of what circumcision at eight days really is, I must refer my readers, once more, to The Cipher of Genesis -- the chapter on circumcision.).