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The most important symbolic alphabet in Western magical tradition, the Hebrew alphabet entered occultism by way of the Cabala, a system of Jewish mystical thought and practice adopted by many non-Jewish magicians during and after the Renaissance. The Hebrew letters have a more extensive set of symbolic correspondences than any other alphabet used in Western magic.
Much of the basic symbolism of the Hebrew alphabet can be found in the Sepher Yetzirah, a pre-Cabalistic book of Jewish mysticism which was taken up by Cabalists. From this source comes the relationship between the letters and the Cube of Space, a basic diagram of Cabalistic theory. The link between the Hebrew letters and the Tree of Life, the other (and more widely known) Cabalistic diagram, emerged in the early stages of the development of the Cabala, and can be found in the Bahir—the oldest major text of the Cabala—and the Zohar, Moses de Leon's massive Cabalistic sourcebook.
The twenty-two letters are divided into three mother letters, seven double letters, and twelve single letters; these groupings, as the table shows, signify the elements of fire, water, and air; the seven planets; and the twelve signs of the zodiac. Other correspondences include tarot trumps, colors, scents,musical notes, angels, divine names, Paths on the Tree of Life, and parts of the Cube of Space. These correspondences have developed over more than two thousand years of mystical speculation and occult practice in Jewish and non-Jewish communities alike, and they contain a good deal of internal confusion and contradiction.
According to Cabalistic thought, the Hebrew letters form the basic patterns and tools with which God created the universe. Specific combinations of letters form the Names of God, which have power over the universe when spoken correctly. Most important of the Names is the Tetragrammaton or four-lettered Name. In orthodox Judaism this name is so sacred that it may not be spoken aloud. Cabalistic practitioners in and out of Judaism have recorded a wide range of pronunciations, which are used in magical practice, particularly to command spirits.
Another important Hebrew divine Name is the Shem ha Mephoresh or Shemhamphorash, the "Divided Name." According to legend, this Name is so powerful that to pronounce it correctly would destroy the universe.
According to some Cabalistic sources, one of the letters of the alphabet is missing in the current shemittah or cosmic cycle, and will be restored in the next.
Excerpted from The New Encyclopedia of the Occult, by John Michael Greer