Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: The Greek Qabalah – Alphabetic Mysticism and Numerology in the Ancient World by Kieren Barry



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Review: The Greek Qabalah – Alphabetic Mysticism and Numerology in the Ancient World by Kieren Barry

One of my tasks for this year is to learn the Greek Alphabet Oracle, which has very few resources, unfortunately.  One of my Druid Friends told me that someone else told her to check out The Greek Qabalah: Alphabetic Mysticism and Numerology in the Ancient World by Kieren Barry.  To be honest, I had my doubts about the title.  But I’ve read a lot of books that seemed dubious upon first impression but I ended up liking a lot upon giving them a chance, so I picked it up.

“I love that book, but his historical conclusions are tenuous,” my Bishop warned me when I asked about the book.  He pointed out that Barry is a linguist (and his skill is made evident throughout the book) but not a scholar or Classicist so his history can be a bit problematic.  I proceeded with this warning in mind.

First off, I’ll just say that this book has nothing to do with the Greek Alphabet Oracle, at least not specifically.  That said, I think it was very useful and I’m glad to have read it, though it was aggravating and boring at times.

I’m still not clear as to why Barry called this book The Greek Qabalah, because that’s not really a thing.  I think he’s using Qabalah as a generic term for a mystery system based off of symbols?  But I feel as if this doesn’t do the Greek alphabet or the real Qabalah justice.  "Alphabetic Mysticism and Numerology in the Ancient World" is much more descriptive of this book, but I guess that’s a bulky title, despite its accuracy. 

Barry starts with a little introduction and then a useful chapter that overviews the history of the Alphabet, including Egyptian hieroglyphs, linear B, cuneiform, and even proto-Sinaic symbols.  This chapter was fascinating, but brief.  It also helped that my husband is a Classicist, so I kept him on hand throughout most of the book (I only read it when he was home) so he could answer any questions I had.

Next, Barry talks about how letters have been used as numbers, then he dives into the Pythagoras, the Emerald Tablets, Egyptian steles, and the Greek Magical Papyri.  I was vaguely familiar with a lot of the stuff that Barry talks about.  I’m Neo-Wiccan, and that comes from more traditional Wicca, which comes from the Masons and the Golden Dawn, which comes from medieval alchemy, which comes from Jewish Kabbalism, which is related to early Christian Gnosticism, which comes from late Mediterranean mystery traditions, which comes from ancient Egypt, so pretty much all of this stuff is connected in one way or another.  

So, through my various studies throughout the years, I’ve come across a lot of these concepts, but never in a way that was so linear and thorough.  For example, I’ve read and studied Graeco-Egyptian Magick by Tony Mierzwicki.  This book deals with a lot of this stuff but when I first read Mierzwicki's 's book I thought he was maybe pulling that stuff out of nowhere (which is how I sometimes feel about a lot of Pagan stuff) so after reading The Greek Qabalah, I see this isn’t always true. 

Barry talks a lot about the sacred vowels and the planets and ancient numerology.  He includes chart after chart of associations that I would originally copy in my journal but then I realized that he has it all in the back, which is super cool and very useful and I appreciate it.  He then talks about the Gnostics(and I didn’t get offended!), the Romans, Christians, Neoplatonists, and Jews.  He overviews how each of these groups of people (or belief systems) used the Greek Alphabet in regards to mysticism and numerology, which was really cool but eventually got tedious. 

I appreciate this book for the foundation it gave me, but I have yet to see if it has anything to do with the Greek Alphabet Oracle.  I do appreciate the dozens of pages of charts that Kieren Barry included, though.  And I appreciate the depth of his survey of Mediterranean mysticism, magic, and numerology.  This book isn’t for everyone, but I’d recommend it to a geek who wants to learn more about some foundational occult lore.

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