The Name of Names, YHVH
 
The Eternal Golden Braid
The Name of Names

The Name of Names. Tetragrammaton.[1] יהוה, YHVH, which some say is Yahweh and others insist is Jehovah. What is it?The word Jehovah is a travesty, created by someone who didn't know what they were looking at. Pious Jews never pronounce the name יהוה, instead substituting אָדוֹנַי, Adonai.[2] Voweled (also called pointed) texts remind people to make the substitution by printing the letters of יהוה together with the vowels of Adonai. The result of spelling that out is יָהֹוַה = Jehovah. Now you know. ...But don't tell the Jehovah's Witnesses I said so.

...Oh, and while we're on about it, how is it pronounced?

To answer that last question, I recommend Lon Milo DuQuette's book, The Chicken Qabalah[3]. The other question isn't so easy.

It means, roughly, that which is: tenseless existence. The Hebrew language is unusual in that it has no normally used infinitive form of the verb to be; but if it did, that would be it. YHVH is synonymous with the concept of existence, being quite literally everything that is. The word itself is formed out of particles meaning that which was, and is, and will ever be.

In their book The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, authors Pratchett, Stewart, and Cohen tell a compelling fable about how Existence came to be identified with Deity:

Imagine how it must have seemed to Abraham, one of the founding fathers of Judaism. He was probably a shepherd, and he probably lived in and around Ur, one of the first true city-states. He was surrounded by the icons of simple-minded religions: gold-plated idols, masks, altars. He was wildly unimpressed by them. They were trivial things, small-minded. They did not begin to measure up to the awsomeness of the natural world, and its stunning power. Additionally, he was aware that something much bigger than him was running that world. It knew when to plant crops and when to reap them, how to tell whether rain was on the way, how to build boats, how to breed sheep ... how to have a prosperous life. Even more: it knew how to pass this knowledge on to the next generation. Abraham knew that his own tiny intelligence was nothing compared to this majestic something. So he reified[4] it, and gave it a name: Jehovah, which means that which is.

In that fable, Abraham works backward from the world to Deity. Since his time, many generations of scholars have worked the other way, from Deity down to the world, in order to justify and explain that reification. In the course of doing so, they have also provided mystical explanations of the Name: now it is not only a verb, but also a picture of the mechanics of the universe's creation.

Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet represents a collection of things: sounds, yes, but also numbers and — most important for this discussion — concepts, stories. The Name יהוה contains the letters Yod, Heh, and Vau. They are, respectively, the hand, a window, and a nail. ...Which seems like a strange collection of concepts to describe a universe's creation, until you look more closely.

The hand is an instrument of bestowal and of creation: we give things with it, and we create with it. We can abstract these ideas into a First Cause, a Something that exists to bestow and to create, and which is bestowal and creation. In this way, Yod becomes the first active, fertilizing principle, the sperm.

A window admits light, and it lets us get a glimpse of that which is beyond it and beyond us, the great wide world. Through a bit of tortuous reasoning, the window — that opening — also becomes a metaphor for a different opening, the one that spits each of us out into the world in the first place. It transmutes into a metaphor for becoming, the passive part of to be, and thence into the first passive principle, receptivity. Heh is thus the passive, receptive principle, the egg, which is acted upon by the sperm[5].

A nail holds things together. It's also a rather earthy metaphor for the mechanism that brings sperm and egg together. Thus, Vau becomes the idea of union and of the act of creation, another active principle.

Got that? Okay, now we're ready to nail them together. (Sorry.[6])

Before The Beginning, there is an Urge. That Urge is the Will to Bestow. It's big ... really, really, big ... infinite, in fact. So big that it has no beginning and no end, and actually as we think about it, no middle either. It's just everywhere, and it is all that is. And it wants to give. But, since it is all that is, all it can give is itself.

Being so big, its Will must be obeyed, so bestowal will occur. Which means that there's a corresponding Urge, the Will to Receive. That Will is a little point of Nothing (it has to be nothing, as the other Urge is everything) that exists to receive that which is bestowed.

Their union is the fertilizing principle, the act of Creation. And that act brings forth — obviously! How could it not? — That Which Is Created, to wit: the universe, us.

The first three of those parts are ineffable. They exist in no-Time and no-Space, so how can we express them as concepts? But we need a handle to hang them on, so we ascribe to them the principles we've already discussed: Yod, (first) Heh, Vau. The fourth part is the inevitable outcome of the first three parts' actions, their creation: (second) Heh. That's the first meaning of יהוה.

But wait, there's more. That second Heh, the Creation, is way too powerful a force to be expressed as mere matter. It has to be damped down before we can begin to pack it into mudballs. So it must pass through several ever-diminishing energy states before it can actually accomplish the Will of that first Urge. That's where the Qabalah as we express it starts. Everything above that point is veils of negative existence, things we know must be there but have no meaningful way to talk about.

On the other hand, the parts we can talk about reflect the ineffable parts. We know this because the Hermetic principle tells us so: As Above, So Below. The large is mirrored in the small. ...Which is further mirrored in the Smaller Still, but we'll get to that by and by. And along the way, there are myriad other reflections, until we find we've created Indra's Net, a web of points throughout space in which each point completely reflects all the other points.

The next meaning of יהוה, then, is the part that starts when Vau rips a hole in the fabric of Infinity. This force, which we call the Light, begins the process of manifesting. If you like, you can think of this as the pinpoint in which all the universe's potential energy existed at the point of the Big Bang. In Qabalah, this Yod is a Unity, Kether. It is still so close to the Divine that it has its own world, Atziluth. And the light begins pouring down.

The first thing it does is to divide.[7] One becomes Two: the Unity becomes active and passive principles. (Reflection again, yes?) You can think of this as the explosion from the Big Bang, where something with so much stored energy that it can't even yet be called plasma begins flying outward, and space begins to be created. Turbulence begins to set up localized clumps in that Æther that will eventually cool to the point where it can become electromagnetic energy. In Qabalah, this Heh is the world Briah, containing Chokmah and Binah, the first place where we can begin to talk about Thesis and Antithesis.[8]

All that occurs above a certain energy threshold, a gap we call the Abyss. Bridging that gap is something of a mystical exercise, and then the miracle occurs. The next stage is where we can finally begin to talk rationally about what's happening. Again using our Big Bang metaphor, this is where the clumping has smoothed out into energy that we would recognize as energy. Still too hot for matter, but it will eventually cool through expansion into things that can clump into protons, neutrons, and electrons. Qabalistically, this expansion and cooling is Vau, the world of Yetzirah. This will go on for some good long while, falling through quite a few energy states as it expands — two entire Triads on our Qabalistic Tree.

Finally, the last barrier is crossed. Space is now large enough that the energy suffusing it begins to stop bouncing off itself, and can stick: we have matter. This is the point of Creation where the universe we think of at last comes to be. Qabalistically, this Heh is Assiah, the world of Action, containing the only sphere that matters to us in the normal day-to-day: Malkuth, the Kingdom.[9]

So: four letters, four essential elements of Creation, four worlds. And there are other interpretations as well: three Triads plus Malkuth, for instance, in a direct reflection of the three Ineffables plus the Tree. And now I'll go way out on a limb (sorry again) ...

They're also the four fundamental forces we know of: the nuclear weak and strong forces, electromagnetism, and gravity. Yod is the weak force; first Heh the strong force; Vau electromagnetism, and second Heh gravity. I make these assignments because of the effective range of each force: the weak force is so short-ranged that it can only have been active throughout space when space was a single point. The strong force drove the initial explosion. Electromagnetism caused the clumping and set up initial conditions to create particles. And gravity created larger particles out of small ones.

Am I full of it for saying that? You decide. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


I cannot say enough good things about Lon DuQuette's The Chicken Qabalah. You should buy a copy. You can do that here.


[1]Literally, name of four letters
[2]Adonai literally means my Lords — it's the first person plural possessive of אדון, Adon, Lord.
[3]Lon wants you to buy his book, and so do I. See the end of this article for a link to it.
[4]Reify means to make real. It is the mental process of converting a concept into a physical form, treating the idea as if it were a thing.
[5]Medically, we know that's not how it actually happens; sperm and egg both act in creating a fertilized egg. The science of the time when this system was devised didn't know that: they thought the sperm by itself was sufficient to form a human, and the egg merely fed it. Anyway, this is a metaphor. Give it a break, okay?
[6]No I'm not.
[7]This is debatable. Some say the next Sephirah emitted from Kether is Malkuth, then come the intervening eight.
[8]Here, Thesis and Antithesis proceed from Synthesis: a reflection of the way we think it works. These are the Supernals, existing in a place where our normal logic is involuted. These three together are the mother letters, which create space; and the first Creator is Shin, ש, the last of the mothers. For the last shall be made first.
[9]Quite coincidentally, it's also the only place where there can actually be a day-to-day. Lucky thing, that, wouldn't you say?
[1]Literally, name of four letters
[2]Adonai literally means my Lords — it's the first person plural possessive of אדון, Adon, Lord.
[3]Lon wants you to buy his book, and so do I. See the end of this article for a link to it.
[4]Reify means to make real. It is the mental process of converting a concept into a physical form, treating the idea as if it were a thing.
[5]Medically, we know that's not how it actually happens; sperm and egg both act in creating a fertilized egg. The science of the time when this system was devised didn't know that: they thought the sperm by itself was sufficient to form a human, and the egg merely fed it. Anyway, this is a metaphor. Give it a break, okay?
[6]No I'm not.
[7]This is debatable. Some say the next Sephirah emitted from Kether is Malkuth, then come the intervening eight.
[8]Here, Thesis and Antithesis proceed from Synthesis: a reflection of the way we think it works. These are the Supernals, existing in a place where our normal logic is involuted. These three together are the mother letters, which create space; and the first Creator is Shin, ש, the last of the mothers. For the last shall be made first.
[9]Quite coincidentally, it's also the only place where there can actually be a day-to-day. Lucky thing, that, wouldn't you say?

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An Interactive QabalahThe Mother lettersSeven of Swords A Brief Introduction to QabalahNepheshSix of Swords Kether, the CrownNeshamahFive of Swords Chokmah, WisdomThe Veil of ParokethFour of Swords Binah, UnderstandingPermutations of the NameThree of Swords Daath, KnowledgeThe Three PillarsTwo of Swords QliphothThe ProfaneAce of Disks Chesed, MercyReflectionKnight of Disks Geburah, StrengthRuachQueen of Disks Tiphareth, BeautySefer Yetzirah, the Book of FormationPrince of Disks Netzach, VictorySeverityPrincess of Disks Hod, SplendorThe simple lettersTen of Disks Yesod, FoundationWhat is a Soul?Nine of Disks Malkuth, KingdomThe SoulsEight of Disks AlefThe Supernal TriadSeven of Disks BetThe FoolSix of Disks GimelThe MagusFive of Disks DalethThe PriestessFour of Disks HehThe EmpressThree of Disks VauThe EmperorTwo of Disks ZainThe HierophantAdjustment ChethThe LoversAeon TethThe ChariotArt YodAdjustmentThe Chariot KaphThe HermitDeath LamedFortuneDevil MemLustThe Emperor NunThe Hanged ManThe Empress SamekhDeathThe Fool AyinArtFortune PehThe DevilThe Hanged Man TzaddiThe TowerThe Hermit QophThe StarThe Hierophant ReshThe MoonThe Lovers ShinThe SunLust TauThe AeonThe Magus The Qabalistic WorldsThe UniverseThe Moon Atziluth, ArchetypesAce of WandsThe Priestess Briah, the CreativeKnight of WandsThe Star Yetzirah, the FormativeQueen of WandsThe Sun Assiah, the ActivePrince of WandsThe Tower The court cardsPrincess of WandsThe Universe The AcesTen of WandsHebrew alphabet transliterations The KnightsNine of WandsThe Triads The QueensEight of WandsThe Qabalistic Veils The PrincesSeven of WandsThe Name of Names, YHVH The PrincessesSix of WandsAlef The TensFive of WandsAyin The NinesFour of WandsBet The EightsThree of WandsCheth The SevensTwo of WandsDaleth The SixesAce of CupsThe double letters The FivesKnight of CupsGimel The FoursQueen of CupsHeh The ThreesPrince of CupsKaph The TwosPrincess of CupsLamed The 32 Paths of WisdomTen of CupsMem The AbyssNine of CupsThe mother letters Adam Kadmon, the Body of GodEight of CupsNun AlchemySeven of CupsPeh The Alef-Bet in Space and TimeSix of CupsQoph The Ari TreeFive of CupsResh The Astral TriadFour of CupsSamekh The double lettersThree of CupsShin The Ethical TriadTwo of CupsThe simple letters the Flash of LightAce of SwordsTau The Gra TreeKnight of SwordsTeth The 72 Hidden Names of GodQueen of SwordsThe Tree of Life The Tree of LifePrince of SwordsTzaddi The Hebrew alef-bet letter classesPrincess of SwordsVau MercyTen of SwordsYod MildnessNine of SwordsZain The Presence of the Most HighEight of Swords