Taking shape in a trans-religious mythical reality, Swayambhu follows the journey of two travellers through various manifestations of mystical death, in their quest for spiritual life. The novel is written in the traditions of linguistic kabbalah and Hindu mythology. Divided into two sections, Swayambhu can first be read purely as an intruiging myth. The second section of the novel, Conversations with death, is an extensive footnote apparatus which can be studied to reveal the deeper meanings and kabbalistic techniques conveyed by the myth.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
In the 21st century where we are at last free to practise and pursue any and all religious and spiritual paths, Kabbalah is no less shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding than it was a thousand years ago. In fact, without the brilliant genius of Gershom Scholem we would be no less in the historical dark regarding Jewish mysticism in general and Kabbalah specifically than we were in the Dark Ages themselves.
The Collins English Dictionary defines Kabbalah under the spelling Cabbala, between cabbageworm, and cab-driver, as: an ancient Jewish mystical tradition based on an esoteric interpretation of the Old Testament. Well, that clears things up!
These days, to most people, Kabbalah seems to mean the study of the Zohar (The Book of Splendour) and the practise of the mystical unification of masculine and feminine principles in ones every day life. The Zohar itself, is indeed a kabbalistic book of the oldest order, its importance not to be under-estimated. Reputedly composed in the 2nd century, it was widely accepted and used in main-stream Jewish culture to the point of sometimes even being the only book that doomed Jews carried with them on their last walk to the gas chambers.
But in actual fact, the Zohar is just the tip of the kabbalistic ice-berg. Spanning many centuries and almost all of Europe, it includes literary jewels with spell-binding titles such as the Book of Clarity (anything but!), the Life of the World to Come, the Book of Wonders, and the Revealer of Depths. And for those of us intrigued by the modern question of whether we are capable of manufacturing human-beings, The Book of Creation, said to be written by Abraham himself, details how to create and breathe life into a human body. In fact, the word Golem (the name used by Tolkin for the hobbit gone bad) is Hebrew for soulless matter and is used by Eleazar of Worms, reportedly having employed this book in the 13 century to create humans, to describe the soulless creature he called into being.
As well as the ancient, obscure, esoteric books handed down to us through the ages, kabbalistic history abounds with fascinating and brilliant-minded personalities. One of the earlier accounts are of Abraham Abulafia, a Spanish Jew from the twelve hundreds. One of the most prolific and influential kabbalists of his time, he headed the Jewish mystical stream of prophetic or practical Kabbalah. Drunk on numbers and the conviction that he had to untie all the knots that bind one to this world, he used techniques incorporating yogic breathing exercises and linguistic methods aimed at transcending the meaning of all words. All of Abulafia’s writings are still in existence to this day, many of them un-translated from medieval Hebrew. He is regarded as someone who applied the teachings and revelations as he received them on a practical, as opposed to intellectual, basis to take the path that leads inwards towards God, or, as he phrased it himself, to ‘the World to Come’.
Now, someone who directly influenced and in fact fundamentally reshaped and transformed Jewish mystical thought in his own life time (an incredible feat considering it was the fifteen hundreds, before the advent of mass media, and that Jews were spread far and wide over the European and Asian continents) was the fantastically gifted visionary Isaac Luria with his dazzling intellect. Together with other like-minded geniuses who in the 16th century came together in a village in Palestine called Safed, they became known as the kabbalists of Safed. Through their words and actions, Kabbalah was transformed in their life-times from an a small group of esoterics to a popular doctrine. While some of the members of this group were prolific writers, of Luria there is no direct literature in existence. Everything we have from him was transcribed from his discourses by his disciples. When asked why he didn’t commit anything to the written word, he apparently answered: “It is impossible because all things are interrelated. I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea burst its dams and overflowed. How then can I express what my soul has received and how can I put it down in a book?” Wow! Needless to say, his concepts of Jewish mysticism were amongst the most amazing and far-reaching ever put forward in the whole history of Kabbalah and gave birth to the field of Lurianic Kabbalah which is still in practice amongst certain orthodox Jews to this very day.
While those of us unversed in Jewish history have probably never heard of him, Sabbatai Zevi was a major player in his day. He became known as the Kabbalistic Messiah and had as his mouth-piece, a devoted disciple, in fact his prophet, Nathan of Gaza. Jews everywhere came to accept him as the Messiah, just as, earlier, Jesus was accepted by those who then became Christians. His revelations and ideology led to a revolution of Jewish consciousness and there was a tremendous religious mass movement which spread like wild fire. Living as he did under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, his fame and elevated status drew the unfortunate attention of the Sultan who, cutting a long story short, eventually exiled him and there he died in relative obscurity, his influence gradually petering out.
So what were these kabbalists doing and what defined them as such? Well, that’s the burning question. There are several streams of Jewish mysticism and they all involve varying degrees of magic, theology, mysticism, and mythology. What unites all kabbalists everywhere and from all eras is the desire and intention to personally experience direct contact with God. Some schools practised what is called Merkabah mysticism, the oldest form of Kabbalah. They attempted to evoke the appearance of God at will, using rituals and incantations, and citing specific secret passwords at the guarded gateways to each of the ascending worlds leading to God. Other kabbalists used the numbers associated with the Hebrew letters to re-interpret the Torah and other source texts, revealing hidden secrets and discovering new pathways to God. And still others delved into entirely new understandings of the process of creation, finding ways to ‘repair the original sin’, to ‘free the sparks of the soul’, or ‘to cleave to God non-stop’. The depths to which these mystics go is mind-boggling, and detailed in an often deliberately cryptic manner in written texts dating from antiquity.
So it is against this backdrop that we are introduced to the novel Swayambu written by Eric-Jan Verwey. In the tradition of the linguistic kabbalists of old, Verwey discovers, explores, and plunges into the mystical concept of death as revealed to him through the Hebrew Torah. Arguably one of the few people practising Kabbalah in its original form today, what makes Verwey’s books unique is his knowledge and use of the source texts which he studies in their original medieval Hebrew and from which he draws his inspiration and practical kabbalistic techniques. In this novel, Verwey traces his discoveries in the form of a myth, and, as a guide for the perplexed, elucidates them in an extensive footnote apparatus which functions as the second part of the novel. Be warned: this is not Kabbalah as promoted by pop-stars and self-proclaimed gurus. This is the real thing. Enigmatic, shrouded in complexity, obscure, everything one could hope for in a truly kabbalistic text. The imagery is beautiful, the journey spell-binding, and the footnotes spell it all out for you.
~ P. Ayrton-White, reader
Endorsement for To Kailash and Beyond:
‘“First we observed, then we remembered, then we wanted to return....” The author Eric Verweys beautifully written novel is a novel that encapsulates an unfathomable multi-layered world that exists right now, while you read these words.. Just when you sense the depth of its content, you are being lead deeper and deeper.. To my knowledge it is the only novel that is out there, which integrates a vast knowledge of Kabbalah with Hinduism, through the point of view of a courageous and curious individual. It literally stimulated my chakras! I kid you not!’
~ Yigal Israel, UK
‘I love the way To Kailash and Beyond is written. I love the pace of it, the quiet kind of meditative style that permeates it, the author really has a ‘voice’ that is natural and flows so easily. I found To Kailash and Beyond packed with meaty bits for me to go over and over. On each page almost, I wanted to stop and read and re-read, for the ideas contained in the text, as well as for the writing itself. On an emotional, spiritual and ‘journey’ level, I could completely immerse myself in the text, and because of the weight of the content, I picked it up to start all over again! I love it, and it’s a book that has stayed beside my bed, and I can pick it up and turn to any page and there will be something there for me, that I can read and absorb just for that moment. An amazing, awesome achievement. Thank you, Eric Verwey, for sharing it with the world!’
~ Kirsten Miller, published author in South Africa