Les Lancaster introduces The Kabbalistic Embodied Movement Project
Under the “Alef Applied” menu item on the Alef Trust website we have uploaded the “Kabbalistic embodied movement” project. You can see videos showing the movements and a more elaborated version that includes words and music.
I want to use this blog post to give more background, especially about my own involvement in this project.
I was first introduced to the Kabbalah more than 40 years ago. It was a strange, and certainly unplanned, concatenation of circumstances that saw me sitting in a talk given by Glyn Davies in 1973. The topic seemed somewhat bizarre, and not really one that I had much interest in. But Glyn fascinated me. He was a rather diminutive figure, but in many ways one of the largest characters I had met. In short, over a few months, my eyes were opened to what I came to see as a rich mine of deep knowledge. I began to realise that the seemingly narrow religious world I had encountered as a young Jewish boy, was a door into ways of thinking and being that were far from limiting. Moreover, I found those ways to be more profoundly challenging than was the case with the world of academic psychology into which my research career was just opening. A lifelong fascination had been kindled….
My path took me into rabbinic learning and the depths of Jewish practice, as well as further into the maze of kabbalistic writings and meditative and ritual practice. Throughout the years of immersion, I never lost sight of two things: First, a belief in the value of psychology as a discipline through which to grasp the relevance of the spiritual and mystical systems that fascinated me; and, second, respect for Glyn’s initiative in reformulating ancient teachings in more contemporary ways.
And it was this second that underpins the kabbalistic embodied movement project. My engagement in other traditions showed me that disciplined movement work can be a crucial limb in establishing ways of knowing. I began to think that the path of Kabbalah, especially when, for many, it is practiced outside the ritual container that Judaism provides, was lacking such an element. The path had perhaps become overbalanced towards the intellectual, notwithstanding a rich meditative tradition. We have hints that movement and dance were integral to biblical, and Temple-based, esotericism, but at best we have only remnants of such practices.
So … why the Hebrew letters? Anyone who has delved into these matters knows that the sacred “letters of creation” codify kabbalistic knowledge. The twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet have been a focus of Jewish mysticism for millennia. During the Babylonian exile of the Jews (586-538 BCE), the written forms of the letters were renewed. We can only speculate, but it seems highly likely that these new letter shapes were forged by those who were heirs to the esoteric tradition associated with the Temple in Jerusalem. (Jewish tradition holds that they were rediscovered from the original ‘God-given’ letter shapes, in turn derived from fiery archetypes). Having realised that edifices made from stones and bricks can be destroyed, they found a less destructible vehicle to perpetuate their wisdom—the letters of a sacred alphabet. A stroke of genius, I would say!
Each letter constellates a complex array of meanings which conveys the core characteristics of a specific function of consciousness. These archetypal meanings have been transmitted through the letter’s shape, its numerical value, and its name. When the code of its letters has been deciphered, the Hebrew alphabet can be understood to relate a story. It is the narrative of creation, of humankind’s place in creation, and the teachings through which we advance the primary impetus behind creation, striving to perfect the world and ourselves.
Study of the Hebrew alphabet reveals that it carries a triadic structure. The initial letter, Alef, stands outside the triads—it is ‘aloof’, expressing as it does the infinite that permeates all. The first three triads depict the ‘outbreath’ of creation—the principles through which creation unfolds. The subsequent three convey the ‘return’, the journey of humankind to restore harmony to the whole—the teaching and its realisation. A final threesome condenses the whole into an expression of the esoteric essence of the human being.
The story of our project can be read on the website. Our goal was not to portray the letters’ shapes, but rather to create movements that would embody the essential archetypes codified in the letters. The physical form of a letter is sometimes discernible in the movement; but more generally the archetype becomes known through the movement itself, engaging all of one’s being. Each movement is enlivened by inner work: breath, visualization, sound. And, once the movements have been mastered, the work continues through combinations … letters become words, words build into stories ….
Two stones build two houses,
Three stones build six houses,
Four stones build twenty-four houses,
Five stones build 120 houses,
Six stones build 720 houses,
Seven stones build 5040 houses.
From here and onwards, go forth and compute
what the mouth cannot speak and the ear cannot hear.
Sefer Yetsira 4:16
My deepest thanks to those who shared with me the challenge of bringing the project to this stage of sharing. But this is not a completion, for there are always ways in which the work grows. If others would like to work with us, learning the movements and the archetypes they depict, and participating in the further development of this initiative … then please make contact via the form on the website. It is envisaged that we would work primarily through online systems, although in-person sessions will also be planned.
Professor B. Les Lancaster
Brian Les Lancaster is Emeritus Professor of Transpersonal Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU); Associated Distinguished Professor of Integral and Transpersonal Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies; and Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester University.
He is currently a Board member of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, and has previously been Chair of the Transpersonal Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society and President of the International Transpersonal Association. Les is Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Sacred Science Circle.
In addition to numerous articles and chapters in colleagues’ books, Les’ published works include Mind Brain and Human Potential, winner of a Scientific and Medical Network Best Book Award, The Essence of Kabbalah, and Approaches to Consciousness: The Marriage of Science and Mysticism.