Translated from the Hebrew by Wm. Wynn Westcott.
(NOTE: The Sepher Yetzirah is one of the most famous of the ancient Qabalistic texts. It was first put into writing around 200 C.E. Westcott’s Translation of the Sepher Yetzirah was a primary source for the rituals and Knowledge Lectures of the Golden Dawn. This is the Third Edition of Westcottís translation, first published in 1887. A Fourth Revised Edition by Darcy Kúntz, complete with Hebrew text, notes and bibliography, is available from Holmes Publishing Group, P.O. 623, Edmonds, WA 98020.)
The Book of Formation
Section 1. In thirty-two (1) mysterious Paths of Wisdom did Jah, (2) the Jehovah of hosts, (3) the God of Israel, (4) the Living Elohim, (5) the King of ages, the merciful and gracious God, (6) the Exalted One, the Dweller in eternity, most high and holy–engrave his name by the three Sepharim (7) –Numbers, Letters, and Sounds.(8)
2. Ten are the ineffable Sephiroth. (9) Twenty-two are the Letters, the Foundation of all things; there are Three Mothers, Seven Double and Twelve (10) Simple letters.
3. The ineffable Sephiroth are Ten, as are the Numbers; and as there are in man five fingers over against five, so over them is established a covenant of strength, by word of mouth, and by the circumcision of the flesh. (11)
4. Ten is the number of the ineffable Sephiroth, ten and not nine, ten and not eleven. Understand this wisdom, and be wise by the perception. Search out concerning it, restore the Word to its creator, and replace Him who formed it upon his throne. (12)
5. The Ten ineffable Sephiroth have ten vast regions bound unto them; boundless in origin and having no ending; an abyss (13) of good and of ill; measureless height and depth; boundless to the East and the West; boundless to the North and South; (14) and the Lord the only God, (15) the Faithful King rules all these from his holy seat, (16) for ever and ever.
6. The Ten ineffable Sephiroth have the appearance of the Lightning flash, (17) their origin is unseen and no end is perceived. The Word is in them as they rush forth and as they return, they speak as from the whirl-wind, and returning fall prostrate in adoration before the Throne.
7. The Ten ineffable Sephiroth, whose ending is even as their origin, are like as a flame arising from a burning coal. For God (18) is superlative in his Unity, there is none equal unto Him: what number canst thou place before One.
8. Ten are the ineffable Sephiroth; seal up thy lips lest thou speak of them, and guard thy heart as thou considerest them; and if thy mind escape from thee bring it back to thy control; even as it was said, “running and returning” (the living creatures ran and returned) (19) and hence was the Covenant made.
9. The ineffable Sephiroth give forth the Ten numbers. First; the Spirit of the God of the living; (20) Blessed and more than blessed be the Living God (21) of ages. The Voice, the Spirit, and the Word, (22) these are the Holy Spirit.
10. Second; from the Spirit He produced Air, and formed in it twenty-two sounds–the letters; three are mothers, seven are double, and twelve are simple; but the Spirit is first and above these. Third; from the Air He formed the Waters, and from the formless and void (23) made mire and clay, and designed surfaces upon them, and hewed recesses in them, and formed the strong material foundation. Fourth; from the Water He formed Fire (24) and made for Himself a Throne of Glory with Auphanim, Seraphim and Kerubim, (25) as his ministering angels; and with these three (26) he completed his dwelling, as it is written, “Who maketh his angels spirits and his ministers a flaming fire.” (27)
11. He selected three letters from among the simple ones and sealed them and formed them into a Great Name, I H V, (28) and with this He sealed the universe in six directions.
Fifth; He looked above, and sealed the Height with I H V.
Sixth; He looked below, and sealed the Depth with I V H.
Seventh; He looked forward, and sealed the East with H I V.
Eighth; He looked backward, and sealed the West with H V I.
Ninth; He looked to the right, and sealed the South with V I H.
Tenth; He looked to the left, and sealed the North with V H I.
12. Behold! From the Ten ineffable Sephiroth do, proceed–the One Spirit of the Gods of the living, Air, Water, Fire; and also Height, Depth, East, West, South and North. (29)
Section 1. The twenty-two sounds and letters are the Foundation of all things. Three mothers, seven doubles and twelve simples. The Three Mothers are Aleph, Mem and Shin, they are Air, Water and Fire Water is silent, Fire is sibilant, and Air derived from the Spirit is as the tongue of a balance standing between these contraries which are in equilibrium, reconciling and mediating between them.
2. He hath formed, weighed, and composed with these twenty-two letters every created thing, and the form of everything which shall hereafter be.
3. These twenty-two sounds or letters are formed by the voice, impressed on the air, and audibly modified in five places; in the throat, in the mouth, by the tongue, through the teeth, and by the lips. (31)
4. These twenty-two letters, which are the foundation of all things, He arranged as upon a sphere with two hundred and thirty-one gates, and the sphere may be rotated forward or backward, whether for good or for evil; from the good comes true pleasure, from evil nought but torment.
5. For He shewed the combination of these letters, each with the other; Aleph with all, and all with Aleph; Beth with all, and all with Beth. Thus in combining all together in pairs are produced the two hundred and thirty-one gates of knowledge. (32)
6. And from the non-existent (33) He made Something; and all forms of speech and everything that has been produced; from the empty void He made the material world, and from the inert earth He brought forth everything that hath life. He hewed, as it were, vast columns out of the intangible air, and by the power of His Name made every creature and everything that is; and the production of all things from the twenty-two letters is the proof that they are all but parts of one living body. (34)
a m c
Section 1. The Foundation of all the other sounds and letters is provided by the Three Mothers, Aleph, Mem and Shin; they resemble a Balance, on the one hand the guilty, on the other hand the purified, and Aleph the Air is like the Tongue of a Balance standing between them. (35)
2. The Three Mothers, Aleph, Mem and Shin, are a great Mystery, very admirable and most recondite, and sealed as with six rings; and from them proceed Air, Fire, and Water, which divide into active and passive forces. The Three Mothers, Aleph, Mem and Shin, are the Foundation, from them spring three Fathers, and from these have proceeded all things that are in the world.
3. The Three Mothers in the world are Aleph, Mem and Shin: the heavens (36) were produced (37) from Fire; the earth from the Water; and the Air from the Spirit is as a reconciler between the Fire and the Water.
4. The Three Mothers, Aleph, Mem and Shin, Fire, Water and Air, are shown in the Year: from the fire came heat, from the waters came cold, and from the air was produced the temperate state, again a mediator between them. The Three Mothers, Aleph, Mem and Shin, Fire, Water and Air, are found in Man: from the fire was formed the head; from the water the belly; and from the air was formed the chest, again placed as a mediator between the others.
5. These Three Mothers did He produce and design, and combined them; and He sealed them as the three mothers in the Universe, in the Year and in Man–both male and female. He caused the letter Aleph to reign in Air and crowned it, and combining it with the others He sealed it, as Air in the World, as the temperate (climate) of the Year, and as the breath in the chest (the lungs for breathing air) in Man: the male with Aleph, Mem, Shin, the female with Shin, Mem, Aleph. He caused the letter Mem to reign in Water, crowned it, and combining it with the others formed the earth in the world, cold in the year, and the belly in man, male and female, the former with Mem, Aleph, Shin, the latter with Mem, Shin, Aleph. He caused Shin to reign in Fire, and crowned it, and combining it with the others sealed with it the heavens in the universe, heat in the year and the head in man, male and female. (38)
b g d k p r t
Section 1. The Seven double letters, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Kaph, Peh, Resh, and Tau have each two sounds associated with them. They are referred to Life, Peace, Wisdom, Riches, Grace, Fertility and Power. The two sounds of each letter are the hard and the soft–the aspirated and the softened. They are called Double, because each letter presents a contrast or permutation; thus Life and Death; Peace and War; Wisdom and Folly; Riches and Poverty; Grace and Indignation; Fertility and Solitude; Power and Servitude.
2. These Seven Double Letters point out seven localities; Above, Below, East, West, North, South, and the Palace of Holiness in the midst of them sustaining all things.
3. These Seven Double Letters He designed, produced, and combined, and formed with them the Planets of this World, the Days of the Week, and the Gates of the soul (the orifices of perception) in Man. From these Seven He bath produced the Seven Heavens, the Seven Earths, the Seven Sabbaths: for this cause He has loved and blessed the number Seven more than all things under Heaven (His Throne).
4. Two Letters produce two houses; three form six; four form twenty-four; five form one hundred and twenty; six form seven hundred and twenty; (39) seven form five thousand and forty; and beyond this their numbers increase so that the mouth can hardly utter them, nor the ear hear the number of them. So now, behold the Stars of our World, the Planets which are Seven; the Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. The Seven are also the Seven Days of Creation; and the Seven Gateways of the Soul of Man–the two eyes, the two ears, the mouth and the two nostrils. So with the Seven are formed the seven heavens, (41) the seven earths, and the seven periods of time; and so has He preferred the number Seven above all things under His Heaven. (42)
Supplement to Chapter IV
NOTE.–This is one of several modern illustrations of the allotment of the Seven Letters; it is not found in the ancient copies of the “Sepher Yetzirah.”
He produced Beth, and referred it to Wisdom ; He crowned it, combined and formed with it the Moon in the Universe, the first day of the week, and the right eye of man.
He produced Gimel, and referred it to Health; He crowned it, combined and joined with it Mars in the Universe, the second day of the week, and the right ear of man.
He produced Daleth, and referred it to Fertility; He crowned it, combined and formed with it the Sun in the Universe, the third day of the week, and the right nostril of man.
He produced Kaph, and referred it to Life; He crowned it, combined and formed with it Venus in the Universe, the fourth day of the week, and the left eye of man.
He produced Peh, and referred it to Power; He crowned it, combined and formed with it Mercury in the Universe, the fifth day of the week, and the left ear of man.
He produced Resh, and referred it to Peace; He crowned it, combined and formed with it Saturn in the Universe, the sixth day of the week, and the left nostril of man.
He produced Tau, and referred it to Beauty; He crowned it, combined and formed with it Jupiter in the Universe, the Seventh Day of the week, and the mouth of man.
By these Seven letters were also made seven worlds, seven heavens, seven earths, seven seas, seven rivers, seven deserts, seven days, seven weeks from Passover to Pentecost, and every seventh year a Jubilee.
Mayer Lambert gives:–Beth to Saturn and the Hebrew Sabbath–that is Saturday; Gimel to Jupiter and Sunday; Daleth to Mars and Monday; Kaph to the Sun and Tuesday; Peh to Venus and Wednesday; Resh to Mercury and Thursday; and Tau to the Moon and Friday.
h w z j f y l n s u x q
1. The Twelve Simple Letters are Héh, Vau, Zain, Cheth, Teth, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samech, Oin, Tzaddi and Qoph; (43) they are the foundations of these twelve properties: Sight, Hearing, Smell, Speech, Taste, Sexual Love, Work, Movement, Anger, Mirth, Imagination, (44) and Sleep. These Twelve are also allotted to the directions in space: North-east, South-east, the East above, the East below, the North above, the North below, the South-west, the Northwest, the West above, the West below, the South above, and the South below; these diverge to infinity, and are as the arms of the Universe.
2. These Twelve Simple Letters He designed, and combined, and formed with them the Twelve celestial constellations of the Zodiac, whose signs are Teth, Shin, Tau, Samech, Aleph, Beth, Mem, Oin, Qoph, Gimel, Daleth, and Daleth. (45) The Twelve are also the Months of the Year: Nisan, (46) Yiar, Sivan, Tamuz, Ab, Elul, Tishri, Hesvan, Kislev, Tebet, Sabat and Adar. The Twelve are also the Twelve organs of living creatures: (47) the two hands, the two feet, the two kidneys, the spleen, the liver, the gall, private parts, stomach and intestines.
He made these, as it were provinces, and arranged them as in order of battle for warfare. And also the Elohim (48) made one from the region of the other.
Three Mothers and Three Fathers; and thence issue Fire, Air and Water. Three Mothers, Seven Doubles and Twelve Simple letters and sounds.
3. Behold now these are the Twenty and Two Letters from which Jah, Jehovah Tzabaoth, the Living Elohim, the God of Israel, exalted and sublime, the Dweller in eternity, formed and established all things; High and Holy is His Name.
Supplement to Chapter V
NOTE.–This is a modern illustration of the allotment of the Twelve Letters; it is not found in the ancient copies of the “Sepher Yetzirah.”
1. God produced Hé predominant in Speech, crowned it, combined and formed with it Aries in the Universe, Nisan in the Year, and the right foot of Man.
2. He produced Vau, predominant in mind, crowned it, combined and formed with it Taurus in the Universe, Aiar in the Year, and the right kidney of Man.
3. He produced Zain, predominant in Movement crowned it, combined and formed it with Gemini in the Universe, Sivan in the Year, and the left foot of Man.
4. He produced Cheth, predominant in Sight, crowned it, combined and formed it with Cancer in the Universe, Tammuz in the year, and the right hand of Man.
5. He produced Teth, predominant in Hearing, crowned it, combined and formed with it Leo in the Universe, Ab in the Year, and the left kidney in Man.
6. He produced Yod, predominant in Work, crowned it, combined and formed with it Virgo in the Universe, Elul in the Year, and the left hand of Man.
7. He produced Lamed, predominant in Sexual desire, crowned it, combined and formed with it Libra in the Universe, Tishri in the Year, and the private parts of Man. (Kalisch gives “gall.”)
8. He produced Nun, predominant in Smell, crowned it, combined and formed with it Scorpio in the Universe, Heshvan in the Year, and the intestines of Man.
9. He produced Samech, predominant in Sleep, crowned it, combined and formed with it Sagittarius in the Universe, Kislev in the Year, and the stomach of Man.
10. He produced Oin, predominant in Anger, crowned it, combined and formed with it Capricornus in the Universe, Tebet in the Year, and the liver of Man.
11. He produced Tzaddi, predominant in Taste, crowned it, combined and formed with it Aquarius in the Year, and the gullet in Man).
12. He produced Qoph, predominant in Mirth, crowned it, combined and formed with it Pisces in the Universe, Adar in the Year, and the spleen of Man.
NOTE.–Mediaeval authorities and modern editors give very different allocations to the twelve simple letters.
Section 1. Three Fathers and their generations, Seven conquerors and their armies, and Twelve bounds of the Universe. See now, of these words, the faithful witnesses are the Universe, the Year and Man. The dodecad, the heptad, and the triad with their provinces; above is the Celestial Dragon, T L I, (49) and below is the World, and lastly the heart of Man. The Three are Water, Air and Fire; Fire above, Water below, and Air conciliating between them; and the sign of these things is that the Fire sustains (volatilises) the waters; Mem is mute, Shin is sibilant, and Aleph is the Mediator and as it were a friend placed between them.
2. The Celestial Dragon, T L I, is placed over the universe like a king upon the throne; the revolution of the year is as a king over his dominion; the heart of man is as a king in warfare. Moreover, He made all things one from the other; and the Elohim set good over against evil, and made good things from good, and evil things from evil: with the good tested He the evil, and with the evil did He try the good. Happiness (50) is reserved for the good, and misery (51) is kept for the wicked.
3. The Three are One, and that One stands above. The Seven are divided; three are over against three, and one stands between the triads. The Twelve stand as in warfare; three are friends, three are enemies; three are life givers; three are destroyers. The three friends are the heart, the ears, and the mouth; the three enemies are the liver, the gall, and the tongue; (52) while God (53) the faithful king rules over all. One above Three, Three above Seven, and Seven above Twelve: and all are connected the one with the other.
4. And after that our father Abraham had perceived and understood, and had taken down and engraved all these things, the Lord most high (55) revealed Himself, and called him His beloved, and made a Covenant with him and his seed; and Abraham believed on Him (56) and it was imputed unto him for righteousness. And He made this Covenant as between the ten toes of the feet–this is that of circumcision; and as between the ten fingers of the hands and this is that of the tongue. (57) And He formed the twenty-two letters into speech (58) and shewed him all the mysteries of them. (59) He drew them through the Waters; He burned them in the Fire; He vibrated them in the Air; Seven planets in the heavens, and Twelve celestial constellations of the stars of the Zodiac.
The End of “The Book of Formation
Authors Details: Translated from the Hebrew by Wm. Wynn Westcott