Singing Christmas carols back in 2004, I had a sudden insight into the kabbalistic symbolism that fills one particular song, “Silent Night.” The deeper levels of meaning revealed from this viewpoint really enrich the power of this carol, and I thought at this season this would be a perfect topic to share with you.
First, some background on the Kabbalah, so you will understand what I am talking about. (You can also review the first two articles on this topic here in this blog: Kabbalah 101 for Neo-Pagans: Part 1: Introduction and Kabbalah 101 for Neo-Pagans, Part 2: Kabbalah’s Origins and History).
The Kabbalah, or Tree of Life, is a design made up of ten spheres called sephiroth, in a lattice structure. Each sephirah is like a drawer in a file cabinet, that contains numerous symbols and mythological archetypes, and shows how they are interrelated.
Blinded by the Light
At the top of the Tree, the first sephirah, Kether, represents divinity before any definition, comprehension, or duality. Its color is white or “brilliance,” a color beyond understanding that can only be roughly represented by the purest, most blinding white light you can imagine. Think about going snow blind in the Arctic.
Fire and Ice
Chokmah is pure force and ultimate masculinity, the All Father. Of the four letters in the sacred name of God, Yod He Vau He, representing the four elements of fire, air, water and earth, the Yod, representing fire, is an important symbol of Chokmah. This letter also represents a rod or phallus, additional symbols of the masculine force of Chokmah.
The next sephirah, Binah, represents pure form, and the ultimate female, the All Mother — the womb for the phallus of Chokmah. Binah is a sphere of silence, contemplation and understanding. Its color is black, representing the shadow that allows three dimensional shapes to become visible out of the blinding light of Chokmah. It also represents the space between sounds that allows language and music to exist, and the still small voice of inspiration to be heard beneath the incessant chatter of our conscious minds.
Binah is the Great Sea of our unconscious, and the primal froth from which the first life emerged. It is the sphere of the Ama or infertile mother – the Maiden or the Crone of the Triple Goddess – and the Aima or fertile mother, the third face of the Triple Goddess. The addition of the letter I or Yod, the masculine force of Chokmah, to the Ama, transforms her to Aima, symbolic of the impregnation of the Maiden to transform her into the Mother.
The planet (and Roman god) associated with Binah is Saturn, known as the Restrictor. This planet rules depression, and winter. Black is also associated with these symbols. The god’s festival, the Saturnalia, was celebrated in ancient Rome on the 17th of December.
“Here Comes the Sun, doo doo doo doo….”
Farther down the Tree, and directly beneath Kether, is the 6th sephirah, Tifareth, the heart of the Tree. The “planet” associated with Tifareth is the sun. With all the paths that lead from the Tree’s center, here, to the other spheres, Tifareth does look sun-like, as if it is radiating beams.
Tifareth’s color is yellow, and its metal is gold. It is associated with sacrificed gods, divine kings, and sacred children. Hercules, Christ, King Arthur, Osiris, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are examples of these roles. But as it relates to the Christmas carol, we would be most concerned with the way Jesus fulfilled all these roles over the course of his life.
Tifareth is also on the central pillar of the Tree, which balances the right pillar of force and expansion — Chokmah’s pillar — and the left pillar of form and severity — Binah’s pillar. This is the pillar of equilibrium, and qualities of Tifareth include mildness and tender loving care.
Now that you have a little bit of background in the Kabbalah, let me go over the lyrics of the carol so you can see how rich in kabbalistic symbolism it is:
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon virgin, mother and child,
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar;
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia –
Christ, our Savior, is born;
Christ, our Savior, is born.
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, loves pure light.
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With a dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth;
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
“Silent” and “Night” are both attributes of Binah, and they make reflection and understanding possible. The next line is “Holy Night,” so this is not an evil blackness, or an association of darkness with evil. This is an affirmation of the holiness and sacredness of the night and darkness, and the relief it brings from blinding, relentless light.
“All is calm” — calmness is associated with the quietness and silence of Binah, or the calm waters of its Great Sea. “All is bright” — Saturn is sometimes referred to as the sol niger, the “black sun.” It is the brightness of inspiration that comes out of the darkness of the stilled mind.
“Round yon Virgin” – the Virgin or the Ama. “Mother and Child” — Ama is transformed by the Yod of Chokmah’s All Father, into the Aima or Fertile Mother. The sacred Child of Tifareth is conceived.
The inclusion of “Mother and Child” in the same phrase is telling, because the Child actually doesn’t seem to be born until the next verse. We can surmise here that the “Silent Night” of the “Mother and Child” is the Child in the quiet womb of the Mother.
The next line, “Holy Infant, tender and mild,” both refers to the sacred Child of Tifareth, and also to the qualities of tenderness and mildness in Tifareth that balance the pillar of expansion (with Chokmah at the top) with the pillar of severity (with Binah at the top).
“Sleep in heavenly peace,” I believe, is a reference to the Child sleeping in the womb of the Mother. So, all these descriptions of silence and blackness also represent the salt-water sea of the womb, and the child sleeping peacefully within the Mother, within that darkness.
The Dark Night of the Soul
The second line of the second verse – after “Silent Night, Holy Night” is repeated – is “shepherds quake at the sight.” To reach the understanding of Binah, one must travel up the Tree from our earthly plane – the tenth and last sphere of Malkuth.
This means not only suffering the death of the body, but also the death of your Personality as your soul advances in the afterlife, and it is absorbed into your Higher Self — also known as the Christ Self and associated with Tifareth.
Finally, even this Individuality dies, just before Binah, as it becomes ready to merge with the ultimate divinity of Kether. This theory of the afterlife envisions your soul as a kind of raindrop, that ultimately merges with the Great Sea of the Divine from whence it came, at one with God again in the end.
To reach Binah, all of these “deaths” must occur. This is a terrifying, earth shaking experience for the soul. We often fear the blackness of the engulfing sea and night. We prefer to avoid the depression of Saturn, and the restriction and aging – a reminder of our mortality — that Saturn brings. But it also brings wisdom and understanding.
Dawn Breaks — We’re at Ten Centimeters!
“Glories stream from heaven afar.” This is a reference to the path connecting Tifareth with Kether. Tifareth, while not as great a light as Kether, is nevertheless on the path the glories of heaven, or Kether, take — straight down the Tree to earth/Malkuth, and much like the journey down the birth canal.
“Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia.” The Heavenly Hosts or Angelic Hosts are associated with a sphere farther down the Tree. But I think here, Heavenly Hosts also refers to the various facets of divinity that are represented in the Tree by the ten sephiroth.
The singing is like the Logos (Word) at the beginning of time that created the universe. It is the vibration of sound that launches creation. All matter is a vibration of energy at various frequencies. So “Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth” tells of a being that is brought into existence by a vibration of the divine, that passes through all the different facets of divinity — the Heavenly Hosts on the Tree.
Divine Child – Take a Moment to Remember What it Felt Like to Look at the Face of Your Own for the First Time
The third verse: after “Silent Night, Holy Night,” we have “Son of God” – the Son is both “S-U-N” and “S-O-N,” because Tifareth is the sphere of the planet the sun, and also the Son of Binah’s Mother and Chokmah’s Father.
“Loves pure Light” — Light is the pure force or fire of Chokmah. So, this is saying that, in addition to loving the dark womb of the Mother, the Son also loves the bright light of the Father. This fits with Tifareth being on the central pillar, balancing pure force and pure form.
“Radiant beams from thy Holy Face” – the radiant beams are reminiscent of the beams radiating from the sun, and the paths radiating from Tifareth in the center of the Tree. Another name for Kether is the Macroprosus, or “Great Face.” Tifareth, as its reflection farther down the Tree, is called the Microprosus, or “Little Face.”
“With a dawn of redeeming Grace.” Dawn here is an important image, because it is celebrated at Yule or the Winter Solstice on December 21. This is the longest night of the year – again, “Silent Night, Holy Night” – and it is the longest absence of the sun of Tifareth in the blackness of Binah.
Dawn breaking the next morning, then, is the rebirth of Light, the Earth Goddess giving birth to the Sun God. This was cause for celebration, because the night was so long, that ancient peoples feared the sun would never return. Dawn the next morning was greeted with great joy, as the sign of the returning strength of the sun. Jesus’ birth is also seen by Christians as the dawn of new hope in an otherwise dark and sinful world, a world that before that moment could be described as one everlasting dark night of the soul.
“Christ the Savior is born” – here again, saviors are one aspect of Tifareth, not just in Christian terms, but also in the sense of King Arthur or Martin Luther King, Jr. These are leaders that sacrificed themselves to raise the bar for their people, and bring them to a higher plane of social and spiritual evolution.
This is an explanation of the passage of the sun from the seemingly endless night of the solstice, to dawn the next morning — the Child sacrificing the comfort, warmth, peace, and silence of the dark Great Sea of the womb to come forth into the world, to bring new hope.
The Guns fell Silent, and a Lone Voice Broke the Night: “Stille Nacht…”
One last comment on this carol. There is a very famous story — Garth Brooks wrote a song about the incident called “Belleau Wood” — that during World War I there was a Christmas truce called at midnight of Christmas Eve/Day. All the soldiers fighting in the trenches ceased firing, as church bells rang out across the countryside marking the hour.
An eerie stillness settled over the snow-blanketed fields. One German soldier began singing “Stille Nacht,” the original version of Silent Night. Risking being shot, he stood up and walked out onto the battlefield.
One by one, soldiers on both sides joined him in song, and on the field. And for those few moments of the truce, they started exchanging chocolate and cigarettes. Here we have a perfect example of the peace and silence of Binah, manifesting as the cessation of war, and of how important and holy silence can be.
Once we let the noise of our own heads die down, and stop fearing the oblivion of darkness and silence, we can actually see and hear our way clear to more peaceful alternatives.
Have a Blessed and Peaceful Yule, a Joyous Solstice, and a Merry Christmas.