Author’s Note: This is the first of a 3-part series consisting of the role of transgenderism in the development of Kabbalism including:
Part 1: In a Beginning: the Genesis problem and the resulting dissolution of the gender dichotomy.
Part 2: The Hierophants: astral experience and gods of the early Mysteries with trans priestesses, leading to Platonic understanding of reality.
Part 3: The Hermeticists: the development of Hermeticism alongside Berg Kabbalah and modern philosophy with their tenuous relationship to the trans community.
Where does one begin to find one’s place in a maelstrom? That’s not only where a transperson finds himself, herself, or eirself, but where all historians find themselves. But in all this the transperson finds a place as a descriptor of the nature of the Godhead in ways inconceivable to the Fundamentalist Evangelical. The question of who (or what) is God melts away from anthropomorphic patriarchy to an inconceivable concept just like the transperson remains for many an inconceivable concept melted away from social patriarchy. Both cases become accounted as blasphemy to the hinterland preacher who cannot allow himself to think beyond common standards lest his flock turn against him as a heretic. But for any who dare to take in the resultant beauty and vibrancy of both cases, everything becomes new and amplified concerning the nature of humanity and its reflection of the divine, reaching into the phenomenal excursions of the dreamer when he dreams awake.
So where does one begin? Perhaps we should look where the Abrahamist looks: “in a beginning.”
The Hebrew title for the book of Genesis is B’reshith, commonly translated as “In the beginning” as the first word of the same name is most often translated the same way to depict an absolute beginning, unalterable, of which no other view may be tolerated.1
But there’s one problem. “In the beginning” if actually intended with the definite article “the” would be pointed a different way from what’s pronounced: “bah-ray-SHEETh” The first vowel of b’reshith is not a Pathach plus Daghesh for doubling to establish definiteness, lengthened to Kametz since Resh typically refuses Daghesh. Instead we find Sh’va, our “shwa” sound in English but whose pronunciation is typically avoided in Hebrew, leaving a sense of indefiniteness. In other words, the definite article is not there if we accept the rabbinic system of pointing. It means that Genesis is not the absolute beginning but a beginning among beginnings, leaving its own undercurrent for how the universe comes into being and having no root in physicality.
It’s a distinction that opens the great problem of Genesis. The great problem spawned 2 schools of thought that has long fueled modern textual criticism but whose roots can be traced to the teaching of emanation inherent in the Persian period of human and Judaic history. In the first chapter of Genesis we find this order for the creation of the world:
Day 1: Light and Darkness2
Day 2: Division of “the waters”(hammayim) by an expanse (raqia‘) to make heaven (shamayim)3
Day 3: Division of the waters below (hammayim b’tachat hashamayim) to make dry land (eretz) and vegetates it with grass (desheh), herb (‘esev), and fruit tree (‘etz pri).4
Day 4: Sun, Moon, and Stars5
Day 5: Sea and air creatures6
Day 6: Land creatures and Man (Adam).7
Day 7: Rest (Shabbat), accounted in Judaism as the “birthday of the world”, presumably because rabbis regard the previous 6 days as gestation8
The difficulty begins with Genesis 2:4:
Eleh toldot hashamayim v’haaretz bayyom ‘asot YHVH Elohim eretz v’shamayim.
These (are the) generations of the heavens and the Earth in the day made YHVH Elohim an earth and a heaven.9
So 7 days of creation are now represented as a working in a single day. The Fundamentalist looks at this and ties the one day to the first day of creation, when God begins to create. But others aren’t content with this because such a tie necessitates a creation of the earth before earth even happens, rendering something outside the linear timeline even before considering the cyclical concept of time among Hebrews. The problem becomes even worse when one sees a completely different order for everything coming into being in the second chapter:
- Plants are in the earth before they are in the earth.10
- Adam becomes a living nefesh (soul as pertaining to a “lower soul” being a combination of ruach as breath or spirit and adamah as clods of earth)11
- Adam witnesses the planting of Gan ‘Eden or “Garden of Delights”12
- Adam witnesses the plants coming out of the ground.13
- Adam witnesses the land creatures bubbling up out of the ground from which Adam had come (min-haadamah) and YHVH Elohim brings them to Adam so he can name them.14
How is it that Adam who does not appear till the 6th day see the beginning of plants that come into being on the fourth? Must we presume that all plants begin as seeds and spores? Perhaps. But is germination in 2 days or minutes? We can’t determine this from the text itself. But why does Adam appear as the last of creation in Genesis 1 but before the other creatures in Genesis 2? Some scholars, unable to reconcile the matter, dismiss it all as contradictory.
One school of thought developed into what we today call The Documentary Hypothesis. The first chapter speaks of God as Elohim but may also be spoken of as Godhead as in the beginning of phenomena. But the second chapter introduces YHVH. The Documentarians regarded these differences in the names of God as representing 2 traditions unified after the time of Moses: The Elohist and the Yahwist.15
Not all have accepted this view for a simple reason. The second chapter doesn’t use YHVH that way. Instead it’s YHVH Elohim. If this was a purely Yahwist story, then Elohim should not appear coupled with the Tetragrammaton but should appear as separate and distinct expressions in an amalgamation of documents. Documentarians dismiss this objection, seeing the Elohists as coming later, reworking the Yahwist document for their own purposes. Others don’t consider this a safe presumption.
The other school proved more enduring within Judaism, based upon the prevailing verbs describing how everything comes about. Genesis 1 relies upon the word bara or “he created”. Genesis 2, however, relies upon the word yatzar or “he formed”. A third word, ‘asah or “he made” appears in both chapters as if expressing a more generalized lens through which we must look as created beings in an attempt to grasp both orders of existence. The difference between bara and yatzar suggests that the order of events between Genesis 1 and 2 apply to distinctly different levels of what’s not a single universe but a multiverse with layers of existence like the rings of an onion. What may manifest in one order on a higher level may manifest differently on a lower one, each with different rules respecting time.16
From this rabbis deduced a “World of Creation” (Briah) distinguished from a “World of Formation” (Yetzirah). We view these through our own perspective in a more grossly physical existence described as a “World of Action” (‘Assiyah). The first 3 verses of Genesis 1, which seemingly appears more transcendent than the verses that follow, seem to pertain to a “World of Emanation” (Atzilut). The “Four Worlds” progress from the most primal and purest aspects of Being in Atzilut to the most grossly material in ‘Assiyah. From these ideas we may trace the beginnings of the history of Kabbalism, though Kabbalists today often speak of Kabbalah being first revealed to Adam.17
The “Four Worlds” also appear today in other terms used mostly by occultists. ‘Assiyah is the Physical Plane, Yetzirah the Astral Plane, Briah the Mental Plane, and Atzilut the Soul Plane. This recognition of Yetzirah as the Astral Plane immediately opens up a recognition of astral projection as a dreaming art.18
By “dreaming art” we don’t speak of simply “having dreams.” No such practitioner would consider mundane dreams to have any greater purpose than for the psychoanalyst’s couch. Dreaming is an active and intentional act in which the dreamer employs such mindfulness that he can willfully explore one level to the next. Such arts have long formed the basis for Shamanic and Telestatic approaches to spiritualities including, but not restricted to, the Christian Gnostic movement of the 2nd to 4th Centuries CE. We must strongly caution, however, that a dreamer cannot be dismissed as representing that Gnostic community just for the sake of “gnostic experience” because most cases of “gnostic experience” have little or nothing to do with any form of Christianity.
This association has been charged upon transpeople by some Evangelical polemicists just because they’re transpeople.19 But few transpeople display proclivities in this direction and even scorn the proposition. Notwithstanding, Kabbalists have universally recognized very early that the gender dichotomy did not exist, even in the creation of Man. Consider the passage in the first chapter of Genesis:
Vayyivra Elohim eth-haAdam b’tzalmo b’tzelem Elohim bara oto zakhar uneqevah bara otam.
And created Elohim the Man in His image, in an image of Elohim He created him, male and female He created them.20
Evangelicals have typically used this verse to “prove” and enforce the gender dichotomy as divine command. The gender dichotomy asserts that only male and female exist or can possibly exist, and never the twain shall meet… except in bed… missionary position of course.
But when we examine what has existed from a rabbinic perspective, we find something quite different. It’s a view that appears to be firm by time of the distribution of the Kabbalist work, The Zohar:
“The ninth commandment: to be generous to the poor and provide them with food, for it is written: Let us make a human being in our image, according to our likeness (Genesis 1:26). Let us make a human being__ jointly, including male and female; in our image___ the wealthy; according to our likeness__ mystery of the poor. For the wealthy derive from the side of the male, the poor from the side of the female. Just as they constitute a single partnership___ one caring for the other, providing for the other, and rendering goodness__ so should human beings below be rich and poor in a single bond, one providing for the other and rendering goodness.”21
A footnote to this passage cites an earlier source, also Talmudic tractates and even a source outside Judaism:
“708. Jointly… The original human being was androgynous, engendered by the masculine and feminine aspects of the sephirot, Tif’eret and Shekhinah [Malkhut], who together constitute the image and likeness of God.
“See Bereshit Rabbah 8:1: ‘Rabbi Yirmeyah son of El’azar said, ‘When the blessed Holy One created Adam, He created him androgynous, as it said: Male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).’ Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥmani said, ‘When the blessed Holy One created Adam, He created him with two faces. Then He sawed him and gave him two backs, one on this side and one on that.’
“See BT Berakhot 61a; Eruvin 18a; Plato, Symposium 189d-191d; Zohar 1:47a; 2:55a, 3:5a, 44b, Matt, Zohar, 217.”22
This passage emphasizes human unity and cooperation, determined upon gender, becomes more than symbolic, for clearly, the Kabbalist rabbis regarded gender to be a matter of essence inherent in the first human as an androgyne, male and female together, later separated for the purpose of propagating the species. This essence also has its link to the moral issues of humanity for the rich cannot ignore the poor without denying their own essence and destroying themselves. Neither can the poor, if engaged in class warfare, destroy the wealthy without also destroying themselves.
This mythical appeal demands something else: just like we erected a platinum-iridium meter, kept under excruciatingly controlled conditions to establish the existence of a standard meter, we must consider that the androgynous, specifically intersex individuals, and potentially everyone caught between genders in some way or other, should be regarded as holy examples reflecting that primordial androgyne called “Adam”, and consequently, the image of God.
In other words, those whose characteristics may be perceived to be androgynous unwittingly depict a living archetype that enters into Western myth more generally. They bring to mind what Dr. Jamison Green observed concerning stories of transgenderism throughout the Western mythical corpus in when transgender civil rights was being investigated in San Francisco back in 1994:
“These archetypes, these tales of non-biological birth, reflect the desire to re-create one’s self in the opposite gender. … If there were no societal need for the transgendered [sic] psyche, these myths would not exist. And all archetypes are rooted in actual human experience.”23
Clearly, rabbis had the vocabulary to reference trans and intersex people by Talmudic times. Consider this passage from Tractate Bechorot of The Mishnah pertaining to qualifications of animals for sacrifice:
“On account of the following [blemishes] one may not slaughter either in the Temple or in the provinces: White flecks or water that are not permanent, or back teeth that were notched but were not uprooted; or an [animal] that has scabs, a wart, or boils; [or] an aged [animal], a sick one, one emitting an offensive odor, one with which a sin was committed, or that killed a person by the testimony of one witness or by the confession of the owner); an animal of undetermined gender (v’ţumţūm), or an androgynous (v’andronginos) [animal] __ [one may not slaughter these] either in the Temple or in the provinces.”24
A Yad Avraham commentary on these 2 words follows:
“A tumtum, is an animal whose gender is undetermined because a membrane covers the genitalia, preventing a determination of the animals’s true gender (Tiferet Yisrael).25
“I.e., an animal that has both male and female genitalia and, as a result, has a doubtful status (like the tumtum above) and can be slaughtered neither in the Temple nor in the provinces (Rav)
“The word androgynous is a combination of two Greek words: andro, meaning man, and gynous, meaning woman (Tiferet Yisrael)”26
With 2 words to describe intersex conditions in animals, also applicable also to humans, one which could be described as “indeterminate” and the other “hermaphroditic”, it’s impossible to believe on the basis of Jewish texts that a gender dichotomy was absolute. We further find moral lessons offered as a result of the phenomenon. But that’s not all.
The eunuch (şariş) also appears throughout The TaNaKh (Hebrew Old Testament) that included those described by the Arabic Mukkunath (effeminate) and applicable to the male-to-female transperson. An expression applicable to those female-to-male is Ailonah, literally “ramlike woman.”
But we might ask why this fusing of gender in Genesis 1:27 should express God. This can be answered in many ways, but perhaps the most direct way can be found in the names of God as they appear in Genesis 1 and 2. The word Elohim, translated as “gods” when referring to Pagan gods, is also translated “God” when referring to the Most High. It derives from the feminine Eloah, as an object of devotion plus the masculine plural ending “-im.” Likewise we find in Genesis (and later in the Quran) that when God speaks phenomenally, God may use the plural “We”. Seeing this sense of plurality of both gender and voice coming from the One, we might distinguish the word by translating Elohim as “Godhead”.
The Tetragrammaton YHVH is more subtle. Kabbalists have long recognized a balance of gender in the letters of the Tetragrammaton: Yudh being masculine, He being feminine, Vav being masculine, and He (final) being feminine, expressing also the elements of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth respectively. But unlike Elohim, no plural ending applies. Instead, the emphasis is upon unity, beckoning all expressions including expressions of gender to reunite with God in noumenal oneness.
But in Chapter 2 YHVH Elohim represents more by the two names in juxtaposition as one. YHVH Elohim is the name of God applicable to the sephirah of Binah (Understanding). Sephirot (plural of sephirah), or “emanations”, might be spoken of as universes, divine expressions, manifestations of divine energy, or creative ideas. In most systems, most particularly that expressed in the Kabbalist work The Sefer Yetzirah, ten sephirot:
“Ten Sefirot of Nothingness
Ten and not nine
Ten and not eleven
Understand with Wisdom
Be wise with Understanding
Examine with them
And probe from them…”27
The sephirah of Binah (Understanding) stands alongside that of Chokhmah (Wisdom) on the ‘Etz Chayim or Tree of Life, expressed as YHVH, or simply as Yah. As a balance in the highest levels of the ‘Etz Chayim, Binah is Ima, the Divine Mother and Chokhmah as Abba, the Divine Father. Above both is the highest sephirah of all: Kether (Crown) in which gender is united in pure Oneness in which the divine name is Eheyeh: “I AM.”
Together these 3 sephirot form the Supernals from which the lower sephirot derive their energies. All 10 sephirot also embody the celestial macrocosmic Adam, the Adam Kadmon, sometimes represented in art as an androgyne consistent with the rabbinic interpretation of Adam as androgyne.28
The macrocosmic Adam Kadmon has its link with microcosmic humans and this link has been one of the bases for magickal practice, for the changes within the practitioner in his practices on the Astral Plane necessitate change on the Physical Plane as expressed in the alchemical Emerald Tablet: “As above, so below.”29 But given the hermaphroditic nature of Adam Kadmon, we might expect that the magickal work of an androgynous person should be the most efficacious. Strangely, this relationship between transgender and shamanic work has sometimes gone unrecognized in modern magickal communities, some of which openly reject transgender people.
It’s more important for today’s transperson to recognize his/her/eir position in this spiritual current whether or not such chooses to partake of it. Even if not magically or spiritually significant, it’s historically and philosophically significant. In an age in which representatives of modern patriarchy threatens the existence of transpeople through acts of discrimination and open violence without considering any other view than a cult preacher’s, transpeople need to look beyond the vernacular to what conceptions of the divine have historically been. For that divinity has never been expressed better than by that which is both male and female and yet neither.
- Unless otherwise noted, comments, transliterations, and translations from Hebrew are those of Lynnea Urania Stuart who has since 1976 been a student and tutor of Hebrew, a Hebraist pertaining to biblical interpretation, and a Judeophile. While she has Jewish relatives and has taken part in Jewish and Kabbalist rites she does not regard herself as Jewish but Melissite. All biblical Hebrew texts and titles are sourced from Alt, A.; Eiβfelt, O.; Kahle, P, editors continuing the work of Kittel, R., et al. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977) Deutsche Bibelstiftung Stuttgart. ISBN: 3-438-05218-0.
- Genesis 1:3-5.
- Ibid, v. 6-8.
- Ibid, v. 9-13.
- Ibid, v. 14-19.
- Ibid, v. 20-23.
- Ibid, v. 24-31.
- Ibid, ch. 2: 1-3 Shabbat as the “birthday of the world” is commonly spoken in Judaism and common knowledge.
- Ibid, v. 4. It reads “the generations of the heavens” because of the construct form “toldot hashamayim.” “Some generations of the heavens” would be “toldot shel hashamayim.” “Toldot shamayim” would render simply, “generations, heavens”
- Ibid, v. 5.
- Ibid, v. 7.
- Ibid, v. 8.
- Ibid, v. 9.
- Ibid, v. 19
- (n.a.) The JEDP Theory (2010) Web: Saint Mary’s Press: https://www.smp.org/dynamicmedia/files/9f86f9ff327c4e2eb3a9f985b135a6ff/TX001002_1-content-The_JEPD_Theory.pdf . Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- The writer relies upon her own experience with Kabbalism.
- (n.a.) Four Worlds (n.d.) Web: Learn Kabbalah: http://www.learnkabbalah.com/four_worlds/ . Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- Johnson, Jesse. Transgendered [sic] Gnosticism (June 4, 2015) Web: The Cripplegate: http://thecripplegate.com/transgendered-gnosticism/ . Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- Genesis 1:27.
- Zohar 1:13b, from Matt, Daniel C. The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Volume 1 (2004) Stanford University Press. ISBN: 0-8047-4747-4, p. 94 . Italics Matt’s.
- Ibid, footnote 708. Brackets pertaining to Shekhinah inserted by Lynnea Urania Stuart to clarify that this refers to the sephirah of Malkhut.
- Green, Jamison. A Short History of the Transgender Community – a personal view. Part “B” of Investigation Into Discrimination Against Transgendered (sic) People (September 1994) Human Rights Commission, City and County of San Francisco. No ISBN. 12.
- Bechoros 6:12, Mishnah, from Scherman, Nosson; and Zlotowiz, Meir, Rabbis and General Editors, The ArtScroll Mishnah Series/A New Translation with a Commentary Yad Avraham Anthologized from Talmudic Sources and Classic Commentators: Seder Kodashim Vol. II(b) Tractate Bechoros (December 1989) ISBN: 0-89906-308-X, pp. 149-153.
- Yad Avraham, Ibid, p. 152.
- Ibid, p. 153.
- Sefer Yetzirah 1:4 from Kaplan, Aryeh. Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation/In Theory and Practice, Revised Edition (1997) Weiser Boks, San Francisco CA/Newburyport MA. ISBN: 978-0-87728-855-8, p. 38.
- Drury, Nevill. The Watkins Dictionary of Magic (January 1, 2012) Waatki9ns Media Limited. ISBN: 978-17802183623. Entry: Adam Kadmon
- (n.a.) Emerald Tablet of Hermes (n.d.) Web: Sacred Texts: http://www.sacred-texts.com/alc/emerald.htm . Retrieved June 19, 2017.