Archive for July, 2007



You cannot conceive the many without the one.
Plato, Dialogues, Parmenides

No God – Within most texts explaining the mysteries of the QBL you will see oblique and opaque references to something called God as if we all know what this means. The etymological beginnings the word God or a God in its true meaning refers to spirit or a spirit – not necessarily a wise, omnipotent, all knowing all loving being. However the QBL provides us with many words to “know” this God more completely and avoid the often poorly understood common usage of the word: En Sof, the Limitless; El, the Mighty; and Adonai, Lord, amongst many many more. God in its general use is often seen to be an ineffability an unknowable force beyond human, beyond sense, beyond reason and as such, beyond discussion. We may come to the something called “God”, this “spirit” with many names through an understanding of its works, its creation – and in the QBL these works are undertaken through and with the Sefirot.

From reading the Sefer Yetzirah this essay recognizes the ten Sefirot as not only the tools and processes of creation but also as a map of the absolute direction of existence – spatial, temporal and observational. The ten Sefirot are the ten directions of the five polarities of the universe – up-down, east-west, north-south, beginning-end and good-evil. This essay will avoid spurious references to God and instead use the rich literature of QBL to describe spirit and its mode of operation within manifestation, the Sefirot – we will use and provide explanations of the meaning for God names, alternative names used in core texts, the Sefirot as universal directions of existence, and letters as the pathways we take within it to provide the most precise meanings we can.

The Sefirot are described as depths and the letters as infinite so although our essay will attempt to provide a comprehensive but concise account of the metaphysics behind the system, it must not be taken as fact or as all that is known and the student who would follow his own path should use texts like these only as guidelines for his own journey into the mysteries.

Crown/Keter – A crown sits on the head of a king as a sign of his majesty and influence; to crown a work is to perfect it. A king without a crown is bereft of recognition in his kingdom; a crown alone is ring of rare metal and precious stones enclosing nothing. In the Early Kabbalah, the Sefirot were all called Keter – that is, per the Sefer Yetzirah, ten crowns of nothingness.

Existence/Ahyeh – Keter is known by the God-name of Ahyeh or existence. We have in Keter then the simplest concept of being or doing – existing. Taken in its fullest context we have the idea of Keter as all existence, and therefore the universe – creation itself as the crown of “the King of creation” (see Tif – Malakh).

Nothingness/Ayin – When we look into the universe we see immense reaches of nothingness, untold billions of leagues of empty space, distances so vast that even light itself takes epoch-smashing amounts of time to cross – so much so that when we look into space we look back into time at the light from the stars that has journeyed millions of years to reach and show us what once was. Since space and time are so intimately linked it is not only space that is mostly empty, but time itself as well.

Absence/He’der – Within this boundless ocean of emptiness we do observe little islands of form and matter but further observations, penetrating into the nature of matter itself, reveal tiny particles of opposing and neutralizing charge orbiting each other, from their perspective, at yet more vast distances of empty space. Indeed, were one atom a football pitch, the nucleus would be a ball on the kick off spot, and the opposing electrons would be peas circling around the lines of the edge of the pitch itself! Nearly all of the field is empty! Our islands of matter within the empty cosmos have been shown to be hollow and empty themselves, spheres of absence punctuated by the tiniest flickering sparks that oppose and neutralize.

Obliteration/Hefsed – Atoms are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. The charges on protons and electrons are opposed and cancel out within the stable atom or molecule, but the mass of a single atom concentrated within the nucleus, the tiny football in the gulf of atomic absence, is composed of titanic energies which when released can destroy whole cities and worlds. When one is heading with love towards the highest of the worlds the Kabbalists counsel one to withdraw in fear and trembling for fear of being obliterated; the core of the Earth is a super dense sphere of molten uranium which no man-made vehicle could penetrate without being ripped asunder.

Darkness/Hoshekh – In Lurianic Kabbalah, Keter is said to be the light of En Sof (a limitless expanse) concentrated to a single point within a hollow sphere. Concentrating atoms into an ever increasing density leads to a monstrous magnification of the forces of gravitation, and ultimately to the phenomena known as a black hole. Built in the imploding core of a supermassive star which gives light by crushing matter, black holes are so powerful they bend both space and time and even swallow light. At the very core of our galaxy, the primum mobile itself, there may well be clusters of giant black holes, their rotation and their swirling gravitational pull dragging the stars into their familiar spiral arrangement. Black holes themselves look white because we can only see them by the light they suck in – light itself travels along grooves in space-time caused by the gravitational maelstrom caused by the interaction of all celestial bodies.

Unity/Achad – Keter is one, the unit, the basis of mathematical reasoning which is the crown of the intellect. Keter is the everything that did not come from something, and will always be what it is forever; it fails to know even nothing as its father for as we have seen, the stuff of it is nothingness, and it operates within nothingness – the nothingness is the one. This everything certainly contains some things but these things by virtue of there being from the one thing that is everything are united in that one thing. It is impossible for us to take our existence outside of the existence we are within and look at it, but if we could we would surely see only the tiniest spark and this is all. From within this existence that is our existence, we simply see it streaming off in all directions; spatial, temporal and observational.

Thought/Machashavah – The oneness of Keter that serves maths, serves the mind as well for 1 is not so different from I. Keter is said, by Isaac the Blind, to be “thought” – it is the idea of one, i.e. Me, that the self depends on – as Adam Kadmon, the essential self awareness which is the true identity of man and the fifth and highest world, the tip of the Yod; as Arikh Anpin, the partzuf of Keter, the “Long Suffering One” who experiences all the countless identities within the one thing, and suffers as we suffer.

Alef, Yod and Qoph – These letters by virtue of their numerical oneness (1, 10, 100) take from and lend to the idea of Keter. Alef, the silent inbreath before speech, the airiness that blows leaves, the ox that symbolizes work about to be done. Yod, the closed hand, a sign of concealment, or as a fist, force about to be unleashed – with the fingers closed the five dimensions are clasped tight. Qoph the back of the head, that which we cannot see, and that part we rest upon when we close our eyes to the darkness of the self that cannot be known, when we close our eyes on the great concealment.

Keter is the sefira that symbolizes both everything and nothing. It is everything in that it is existence, the cosmic crown of universal perfection, the unity that binds all form to the singular master and the building block of both mathematics and identity. But it is also nothingness, the emptiness that gives the form of things their structure and power, the darkness of our acknowledged ignorance that separates the tiny sparks of matter and knowledge that are scattered within the limitless cosmos.


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“The heart in the body is like a king in battle…”

Sefer Yetzirah, Saadia version 8:4

The warrior king looks out over the field, dark clouds roll in from the east; from his chariot he considers the weapons in his hands. First the sword in his right.


“The blade of this sword I have forged has two sides,the Yod and the Kaph, the fist and the palm. The edge to strike, the edge of severity composed of nail, sword, fist, whip, eye, hook; the edge for slashing,hacking, smashing through the enemy blade” he runs his finger along the sharp blade and draws blood, then deftly twists it.” “The edge to parry, the Kaph, the palm, excellent in defense, deflection, protecting the weak of my people, Israel, the Society of Spirit, who cannot carry this blade.” This edge is serrated, and has dips in the surface which reflect the sun in a kaleidoscope of light.”With the Kaph I may dazzle the enemy, catch his blade in my own, twist, disarm and stab…” he gestures with the blade, then holds it forth, and runs his finger along it again. “See the fine line dividing the two,beginning in the circular pommel of silver engraved with every letter, and ending in a point as sharp as astar to pierce the heart of my enemy..? And, with everyone of them I smash, I weep tears of blood overtheir fallen, for I cannot count the hours that havegone into making their pitiful weapons.”He closes his eyes for a moment, and opens them to speak to his charioteer. “For long years, my brothers and I worked, discovering the secret of forging this steel of Saadia. We carefully experimented with each element, we probed, we weighed, we permuted, we carved and we engraved and we WERE successful in creation. There were accidents, we tripped, we were burned, dazzled in that forge. We fell through the earth to our waist but we rose again. Elijah himself worked with us in that forge. If Elijah were not there we would surely have perished, each of us, of a blasted mind. Why did he work with us for all those years, smiting with the Yod, and deflecting with the Kaph? This sword is not for ceremony, it is not for us to dress in robes and worship false Gods, waving it in the air, asking for baubles from djinn. This sword is of excellent construction and it is made for war. This sword is made to drive the Baalim into the river and slaughter them there.” He lifts his eyes heavenward. “I know now why I must fight, Elijah.”

The warrior king looks out over the field, dark clouds roll in from the east; from his chariot he considers the weapons in his hands. Second, the flail in his left.


“The flail is used at first – to weaken and confuse the enemy, to lash at them and their armour from our chariot – then when they are down and broken, finish them with the sword. This weapon too is of superior construction to anything their long hours of work with the Baalim have mustered, our weapons of Yetziratic steel smash through their bronze. Ride around them in your merkava, lash them with the flail, finish with the blade.”He considers the flail… Twenty two lines of Saadian steel wire hang from the pommel which itself is shaped like a closed hand. From each of the lines of wire, hang a small, sharpened letter, designed to bite through flesh and smash through bone.“I said I would come here to build an army, but I do not wish to be your master, or your general. This is to be an ARMY OF KINGS. I will give you this sword and this flail, as a brother, and as a fellow King of Israel so that we may build a New Jerusalem together but you must learn the secrets of its composition for yourself. You too must work for years in mastering the blade and the line, the technique of the forge, but I offer you this weapon, in exchange for your own. This is no choice really. If you persist in your arts I will not give it to you, I will put you to it. There are some of us of Israel, and I speak of the Society of Spirit, that cannot or will not wield this blade, and it is our honour and our duty to defend them from Baalim, the false prophets, the ones who offer them masters in place of their own true selves. Sometimes one cannot wield a sword, sometimes I come AS a sword.”Twenty-two letters: He carved them, hewed them, refined them, weighed them, and combined them, and He made of them the entire creation and everything to be created in the future. How did He test them? Alef with all and all with Alef, Bet with all and all with Bet, Gimel with all and all with Gimel, and they all return again and again, and they emanate through two hundred and thirty-one gates. All the words and all the creatures emanate from One Name.”
Sefer Yetzirah,Saadia Version.

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Misunderstanding Europa II…

Misunderstanding Europa II…

deep water, currents, cold tendrils,
descend on to the coral,
and the warm rocks,
phosphorescent with intelligence,
like the thoughts of a prisoner,
the cradle of a civilisation.
Descend, in an aquasphere,
with four windows,
mirrors and a flame,
twirling on the rope,
an inverse lighthouse,
descend, rotate, perambulate.
Hidden thoughts lurk
amidst the crannies and the crook,
fleeting, grasping, they flicker and feed,
on open thoughts queueing
like rainbow fish for the cleaner
with bemused fin waggle.
Deeper, more curious,
beyond rare fluroescence,
trickling streams of luminescence,
beyond booming ominous silence,
to the sulphurous vents in the dark.

To know you, to become you,
the flame of my bathyscaph,
consumed by the flames of your heart.

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“Semiology is a more specific version of the general structuralist approach” (McQuail, D., 2000, Mass Communication Theory 4th Edition, Sage. See page 311.) Discuss what he means by this and assess the value of Semiology for understanding how display advertising works. Use examples drawn from print media, like newspapers and magazines, to illustrate the answer. (Advertisements used will be located in an appendix).Structuralism is an analytical method. The Structuralist’s approach is to seek to describe the overall organisation of sign systems as ‘languages’. They engage in a search for ‘deep structures’ underlying the ‘surface features’ of phenomena . Unlike structuralism, semiology has moved far beyond the concern with the internal relations of parts within a self contained system, for example words and letters in a particular language organism, but seeks to explore the use of signs in specific social situations making semiology a more specific version of the general structuralist approach . For the purpose of this essay semiology will be examined with a view to understanding how display advertising works.

In this century, Linguistics, the scientific study of language, has seen a quite extraordinary expansion. The study of language has held a tremendous fascination for some of the greatest thinkers of the century, notably Ludwig Wittgenstein and Noam Chomsky, whose influence has been felt far beyond linguistics. The driving force in the development of linguistics, was the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure, from whose work , his lectures published in 1915 after his death by two of his students. French theorists developed ‘structuralism’, out of which grew ‘post-structuralism’ (if only as a rebellion against the strictures of structuralism), both of which have placed enormous influence on the role of language in cultural development and both of which have had a massive impact on cultural studies and the media industry.

As this essay deals with semiology and its influence on the way advertising agencies employ display art, rather than specifically linguistics, linguistics here shall be overlooked; Saussure’s ideas do need to be looked at, though, as it was he who laid the foundation stone of semiology. It was he in fact who coined the term (which he developed from the Greek word for ‘sign’ – semeon). He used the word to describe a new science which he saw as ‘a science which studies the life of signs at the heart of social life’. This new science, he said, would teach us ‘what signs consist of, what laws govern them’. As he saw it, linguistics would be but a part of the overarching science of semiology, which would not limit itself to verbal signs only.

“A sign is the basic physical vehicle of meaning in a language – any ‘sound-image’ that we can hear or see and which usually refers to some object or aspect of reality, about which we wish to communicate, which is known as the referent. In human communication, we use signs to convey meanings about objects in the world of experience to others, who interpret the signs we use, on the basis of sharing the same language or knowledge of the sign-system we are using (for instance, non-verbal communication).”

The fundamental structures of semiology as dictated by Saussure and his contemporaries, are actively employed when advertisers use display art in print media, and examples will be provided to show how this takes place. But it must be understood that semiology arose out of a medley of sciences and art forms, which at the beginning of the 20th century sought to understand the relationship between symbol and man, i.e. the school of the surrealists, the developing science of psychoanalysis, etc. In fact, when the relevance of semiology towards modern-day advertising is considered, it should only be considered alongside all of these other burgeoning sciences for they have greatly overlapped throughout this century.

Just before looking at how advertisers uses semiotic principles in order to capture and control market audiences, we should look at some of the details of the relationship between signs and man. The word ‘tree’ in English consisting of the letters t-r-e-e is a symbol for the concept of tree – however, different people looking at the word ‘tree’ imagine different trees. The word tree is no more or less a symbol for the concept of tree, than the Chinese picture word for tree, but each would possess meaning for one culture and no meaning for another. The meaning of a sign or symbol is rarely pure, but always coloured by the interpreter of the sign, who Saussure refers to as the signifier, and this issue becomes further confused when you not only consider the literal and connotative meanings of a sign within a culture, but also the psychological peculiarities of the interpretation of each individual.

Is there a simple symbol that can bridge differences between cultures and individuals?
Colours, are by the very nature, suited to a wide range of symbolic purposes within culture, but perhaps some of the meanings of certain colour have deeper foundations than culture – foundations that are rooted in biological rhythms. Its has been shown that red light, because of its predominance in the morning, when shone on the human body produces a vasodilatory effect and the increased production of adrenaline; these colour operated physiological switches help to prepare the body for a day’s hunting – the link between blood flow, adrenaline and danger are clear – red throughout all cultures means danger and excitement.

But while in the mind of early man, red light was used as a switch for biological activity, in modern society, red is often used as a symbol or sign meaning ‘stop‘ – i.e. follow these instructions and you will AVOID danger, or warning – danger ahead.
How then do advertisers employ these fundamental, almost instinctual symbol reactions, that are hardwired into the psyche?

Direct Line is an insurance company, and their display art in print media, shows a phone leaping with excitement, and driving along, almost speeding. The literal meaning of the advert is a red phone with wheels, but the connotative meaning of this speeding red wheeled phone, when you consider cultural and instinctual implications is – ‘if you are in an emergency (999), especially one involving cars, we can help’ or ‘phone this number and you can stop worrying about the danger of an accident of any form’, the wheels on the speeding phone and its colour, all reinforce the meaning of urgency and danger.
Second-order signification like that discussed above, is what has elsewhere been referred to as connotation, or connotative meaning. But it is also what Barthes refers to as myth. Barthes quotes in Mythologies (1957) the example of a photograph on the cover of the magazine Paris Match. It is of a black soldier wearing a French uniform. He is giving a military salute and his eyes are gazing intently upward, no doubt at the French tricolore flag. That, as Barthes says, is the meaning of the photo. That is the meaning in terms of the first order of signification, that is what the photo denotes.
But Barthes goes on to explain the further meaning of the photo. The further meaning, the second order signification (connotation) must arise from the experiences we have had and the associations (connotations) we have learnt to couple with signs.

However, such connotations cannot be independent of the culture we live in and within which our sign-systems operate. The sign of this particular soldier becomes the signifier of the cultural values that he represents in the photograph. That takes us into what Barthes refers to as myth. Under the operation of this myth, the sign becomes a second-order signifier. The signified is: ‘France has a great empire; all her sons, without distinction of colour, serve faithfully under the French flag and that there is no better answer to the critics of colonialism than this black’s zeal in serving his supposed oppressors.’

“Often the thing signified by a sign, will have its place in a larger discrete system of meaning, which is also available to the member of a particular culture. Myths are pre-existing and value laden sets of ideas derived from the culture and transmitted by communication. For instance, there are likely to be myths about national character or national greatness, or concerning science or nature (its purity and goodness), that can be invoked for communicative purposes (as they often are in advertising).”

The above is an example of display art that clearly demonstrates the use of myth in order to sell a product. The mythological semiotics represented by the cowboy are those of freedom, independence, the pioneer, hard work, leadership, rebelliousness and alpha male masculinity, I.e. taking control of the herd. Nowadays we are more likely to see a Marlboro smoked by a gangster in an Hollywood movie, but cigarettes have long tried to exploit the mystery cool of the rebel.

In this advert we see the Budweiser brand claiming kingship of all the beers; this relates to a mythological recognition of the seizing of the crown, or the crowning of a king – and kingship is a mythological representation that goes very deep. The colour that is used to represent Budweiser here is red, a royal colour. Why is royalty associated with red in light of the discussion of its connotative meanings? Red equals danger equals King. “Don’t mess with me.” The literal meaning however is of a simple cool fresh Budweiser.
Finally we must consider the manipulation of the symbolic meaning of words themselves, linguistic semiotics. English language, being as it is, has many connotative meanings for different words throughout the many cultures that speak it. Use of language to say one thing and mean another is a common trick in advertising media.

The above example is taken from an FCUK marketing campaign that was pulled out of ‘teen’ magazines amongst some controversy. The literal meaning of the word ‘scent’ accurately describes the product, but when combined with the words ‘to bed’, the connotative meaning is clear. We have the idea of a perfume that will attract more men into your bedroom, linked to the idea of parental punishment – this was clearly felt to be an unacceptable use of linguistic semiotics.
In closing, perhaps it would be wise to look at a fragment of the work of Enrico Passeo: “We semioticians owe too much. We are always in obligation to the copious foundational ideas of too many writers. Maintaining an original stance and perspective in semiotic writing is as difficult as being a creative historian without the risk of changing history itself. Depending on what we happen to be writing about on a given day, semiotic writing is as my friend Jorge L. Borges used to say, “una labor intensa de anotaciones interminables de historia, leyenda, y antigüedades.” But two semioticians, whether they knew themselves as such or not, who need to be showcased more often are Sigmund Freud and Carl. G. Jung. Our footnotes about their important work need to be larger than they are today.”

Although semiology as Saussure and Peirce would have known it helped to lay down the structural principles and concepts behind semiology, and knowledge of these concepts does indeed help us gain insight into the way display art is used in the media, semiology alone does not complete the picture. The link between psychology and semiology cannot be clearer, symbols and their meanings have a direct effect on the human mind, and the human mind, is in effect a meaning making machine, ‘homo significans’. The two subjects diverged within structuralism but they remain married to one another. Looking at the modern approach to advertising, with particular emphasis on the print media, it is not only recognition of symbols, or brand awareness, but how people interpret and learn through symbols that has become important.

The modern reinterpretation of both psychology and semiology, ‘Psychosemiotics’, drawing on the work of Howard Gardner, addresses meaning through seven different pathways or sign ways: Musical; logical-mathematical; spatial; linguistic; bodily-kinaesthetic; socio-personal and natural. Two other features of Piercian theory (Charles Sander Pierce – an early semiotic theorist) are emphasised, a) feeling and emotion (response to the sign), as ‘firstness’ lies at the heart of every developing sign and b) the theory offers the framework for understanding psycho semiotics as an evolutionary phenomena that operates within biological and psychological restraints, like biological rhythms and social taboos. This new science is used to great positive effect in education, teaching children what they should know in the manner they are best equipped to learn, and to a more dubious effect in the world of the advertising media – where knowledge of psychosemiotics is used to build brand awareness and market loyalty.

Psychosemiotics then, is an even more specific form of structuralism than semiotics, as it complements one structural science with another that found its birthplace in structuralism and linguistics.

1. McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory, 4th edition, Sage Publications
2. Consequences of A Synnomic Evolution of Language, From “Hablo, Hablas” (1980)

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