The post this week is a Battle Of Unrelated Things. iTunes is a modern technology, a software for personal convenience. Kabbalah is an ancient soft technology with religious, astrological, alchemical, and ontological implications.
The modern world wants music at its fingertips. Technology has made this possible, affordable, and easy to use. It’s simple – why wouldn’t you want the ability to listen to your favorite music any time you like? Music can pass the time, can act as background to our day, or can offer us artistic insights and emotional experiences depending on the attention we’re willing to devote to it. Music is a fundamental human expression, and considering the unending variety of available music, there should be something for everyone.
iTunes was a transition for me. I was used to putting music on my PC and organizing it into file folders, then importing the music into a Windows Media Player playlist. Of course when I got my Mac I switched to iTunes and immediately felt cheated of the ability to organize the files myself. Of course I could organize things myself, but iTunes does things slightly differently.
iTunes is made to be very user friendly. It’s handy because it organizes files into an efficient working order. It doesn’t bother the user with a transparent view to its processes. When I drag my songs into it, I can listen to them immediately. I can change all the data about the song right in iTunes and it will reorganize things along its own lines. Then I can sort and arrange my music by song title, artist, genre, release date, my personal rating, the number of times I’ve listened to the track, and so forth. iTunes handles the mystery for us and offers us slick, efficient functionality. This shrouding of processes allows us to “get to the music” straight away, which is exactly what makes it so popular.
iTunes and the digital music revolution has likely changed musical media forever. Our children, and especially our children’s children, will probably have a hard time understanding that people used to spool magnetic tape through a machine, keep 12″ vinyl discs stacked on shelves, or had cases and cases of CDs in racks on the wall for use in a dedicated machine. The musical experience is now much more direct, more accessible, and more convenient on every level. Though sound fidelity in digital media is less than most previous media technologies, the popularity of MP3 players and iTunes has proven that people are willing to trade this gap in quality for convenience.
Kabbalah is a mystery school that came out of Judaism. Christians have their gnostics, Muslim’s have their Sufis, the Buddhists have their various vehicles, and all religions seem to have curiously secretive “inner orders” that separate the esoteric from the exoteric.
Hebrews didn’t have a numerical system like the Arabs, or even the Romans, and didn’t need our familiar decimal system to do complicated mathematics. So they used their letters to denote numbers. Thus in Kabbalah every letter, and every word has a numerical equivalent (by adding up the number values of the letters). They started to wonder if it “meant something” that the word they used in the Book of Genesis for “Messiah” had the same number as the word “Serpent”. They might have blown this off as a coincidence, but when they looked more deeply into the material they noticed all kinds of odd and amazing equivalences. Some believe the Bible was written as a type of Kabbalistic code with a secret inner meaning for those initiated into Kabbalistic mysteries. We can argue this, but cannot prove it either way.
The history and development of Kabbalah is unclear, but along the way each number/letter picked up a great deal of correspondences. For starters, the letter beth (our B) also means “house” in Hebrew, as every Hebrew letter is a word with a specific meaning. How could they avoid finding strange coincidences in their language now? The letter beth opens the Bible (the first word in the Hebrew Bible is Berashith), and the Bible houses the Word of God – that has to mean something, right? But then astrological correspondences made their way into the Kababalah lore, then magic and mysticism worked its way into the system (not necessarily in that order). Suddenly everywhere the rabbis looked they saw a sign from God (also known as YHVH = Yod Heh Vau Heh = 10 + 5 + 6 + 5 = 26).
The Kabbalistic Tree of Life, an elegant construction of ten sephiroth and twenty-two paths make up a symbol for the entirety of creation. Kabbalists studied the intricate connections and correspondences and found the symbol readily adaptable to all kinds of spiritual issues from astrology to ontology. The Tree of Life filtered out of Judaism and spread through the West, becoming Cabala for Christians and Qabalah for different mystery schools like The Golden Dawn. It’s hard to find many Western magical traditions that don’t use the Tree of Life as a symbolic basis.
As Kabbalists, or Cabalists, or Qabalists, study the meanings, correspondence, and connections of the Tree, they notice their brains start to work differently. Everyday symbols can take on universal or spiritual implications. Practitioners use the Tree of Life like a filing cabinet to sort personal experience, and the more they study it, the more they notice special or holy meaning in existence. Learning this system actually changes the rational brain, training it to look for esoteric symbols and find meaning for one’s personal mythos. (The Middle Path of the Tree, the most direct line to the highest, includes Malkuth, Yesod, Tiphareth, and Kether, 10 + 9 + 6 + 1 = 26 = YHVH. Coincidence?)
Light and Dark
iTunes and Kabbalah represent different philosophies completely, and only in part because they have nothing to do with one another. iTunes stresses the end result (the music) by keeping the underlying systems in the dark, out of sight, out of mind. Kabbalah is an underlying system for life, putting the sorting, cataloging, and interconnection into the light where we can see everything.
For those with a lot on the go – jobs, kids, school, and the whole hectic schedule imposed by contemporary popular culture – iTunes represents exactly what is needed in a modern tool. The intended function comes first, and the process is handled invisibly so people can get on with their busy days. Bless you Apple.
For those with cerebral or spiritual inclinations Kabbalah is a beautiful, endless world of thought that encourages analysis of the underlying processes that make up our very existence. Those into Kabbalah can dive into thought and swim forever in the mystery of life, God, and the Universe.
Though I couldn’t live without music, I have to give the BOUT to Kabbalah. Kabbalah inspires creative introspection and creative perception and increases the plasticity of mind. A good Kabbalist can argue anything, and avoids binary, off/on logic, favouring an inspection of connections and transmutation.
Plus, who doesn’t prefer vinyl as a musical medium?
From the album “Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy”