Introduction to Practical Kabbalistic Procedure
First Published: 2000-06-15
Last Modified: 2006-04-20
There are a number of recurring ritual procedures which either preface practical Kabbalistic activities, or are involved in them directly.
All practical Kabbalistic procedures were to be approached with extreme caution, as an error in the invocation of the Divine could harm or kill the Ba'al Shem or those around him. As a result, thorough preparation was essential, sometimes lasting up to three days, and typically involving fasting, ritual cleansings, abstaining from certain activities or foods (if fasting was not required), meditation, and the recitation of specific prayers or Psalms.
Timing was a factor, especially for those who were versed in astrology; for example, one could determine the days and hours when the evil spirits would be at their weakest. (since the stars and the heavens were linked, studying and practicing astrology was often permitted.) Performing actions at the end of the Sabbath and just before dawn were also favored times, as these were believed to be when demons were at their weakest. Demons preferred dark, spiritually and literally unclean places, so confronting them with light and holiness was of course preferable.
Any incantations or written amulets had to invoke God, often by means of one or more of His Names. Angels might also be invoked. Biblical passages relevant to the situation were quoted. Finally, the specific command or request would be made, concluding with the name of the patient, identifying them as the son or daughter of their mother (in legal and everyday matters, however, people were identified in their father's name). Often the incantation was repeated or elements were required in multiples, typically in threes, sevens, or nines; or in reverse, as a means of dispelling evil.
Physical Objects and Surroundings
The Ba'al Shem might spit before and or after the procedure, particularly after fasting, since the spit of a fasting man was considered a potent weapon against evil spirits and demons. He might also protect himself or a patient with one or more circles. New or "virgin" objects were often required for a procedure: never-tilled soil, fresh water from a spring or river, new utensils and containers, and so on.
Finally, the patient's or victim's dwelling, things, or place of business might be examined for signs of evil magic or reasons demons might be present: knots in fringed clothing or other cords might be evidence of a "binding spell"; ritually unclean food, a damaged mezuzah, or a holy book in which God's name had been effaced could indicate either evil at work, or create an unclean environment that permitted a demon to enter.
For procedures specific to amulet-making, please refer to the section on Amulets.
For information specific to warding off or protecting oneself from demons, please refer to the section on Demons.
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more, I recommend:
Epstien, Perle. Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic. Shambhala, 2001. Full Listing »
Fine, Lawrence. Safed Spirituality: Rules of Mystical Piety and the Beginning of Wisdom. Paulist Press, 1984. Full Listing »
Matt, Daniel C. Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. Castle Books, 1997. Full Listing »
Nigal, Gedalyah. Magic, Mysticism, and Hasidism. Jason Aronson, 1994. Full Listing »
For more titles on this and other topics, you may also wish to browse my annotated biblography for listings of all of my source texts, including descriptions and brief reviews.