Mishkan ha-Echad

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Age and the Occult

Every so often I encounter some "rules" regarding how old one should be before embracing the occult, or comments that dismiss the role and contribution younger people have made. While some of these have some logic behind them, many of them are based on the presumption that older equals wiser (which, unfortunately, is not always the case).

It is well known that some Rabbis, such as Shabbatai HaKohen, suggested that a man should not study the Qabalah until he is at least 40, and that this gives him time to live life, have and raise a family, and thoroughly learn Jewish tradition and law.

Yet, according to Professor Elliot Wolfson, the Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU, this rule was not widely followed, with many Qabalists starting out before 40, and some not even living to 40 years of age.

“For the most part, I do not see that this was ever taken too seriously until recent times,” Wolfson said, according to MyJewishLearning. “As interest in Kabbalah has spread and the level of Jewish literacy has diminished, some religious authorities have felt the need to emphasize that one should not study Kabbalah until one is 40.”

Indeed, Isaac Luria, widely considered the "father" of modern Qabalah, was only around 22 when he began studying the Zohar, and yet where would the Qabalah be today without him? We owe many of the concepts we take for granted to him.

In recent times, I've seen these kinds of rules and restrictions creep into Golden Dawn circles, and, unsurprisingly, they are unsupported by history.

For example, Mathers was just 34 when he co-founded the Golden Dawn (and 33 when he was writing the rituals), and yet he contributed a vast amount of material to the Order, which has influenced many magicians over the past century. He was also just 23 when he joined Freemasonry, and 28 when he joined the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, both of which heavily influenced him.

Likewise, Westcott was 39 when he co-founded the Golden Dawn (turning 40 later that year), and he also had his esoteric start with Freemasonry in his early 20s. Freemasonry was to become a pivotal aspect of his life, and he was, in the words of Waite, "a man whom you may ask by chance concerning some almost nameless Rite and it proves very shortly that he is either its British custodian or the holder of some high if inoperative office therein."

Indeed, Mathers and Westcott not only started young, but became prominent members of almost everything they joined. Both gave numerous erudite lectures while they themselves were still quite young, and some of these papers are still mined for occult wisdom today.

So much for starting at 40.
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