Moira and S. L. MacGregor Mathers and the Kabbalah

posted on the Donmeh mail list

Sefer Yetzirah

Professor Bryan Griffith Dobbs writes:

Although MacGregor Mathers's wife, Moira, the sister of the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, has a good command of Hebrew [and was responsible for most of the work for which her husband took credit]

Richard Brzustowicz comments:

This is a curious statement.  Mathers met Mina Bergson (who changed her name to Moina) in 1887 -- a year after he had finished the ms of his translation of parts of Knorr von Rosenroth's Kabbala Denudata.  This was a translation of KvR's Latin, of course, not a direct translation of the Zohar.  Mathers' Kabbalah Unveiled was first published in 1887; the ms had been circulated however in 1886.  The 1926 re-publication (well after his death) does have a preface by his wife, but it does not
seem likely that she was involved in the preparation of the original edition.

Moina Mathers did contribute a great deal to the development of the later strata of the Golden Dawn, but largely in her capacity as an artist (she was trained at the Slade) and a visionary.  The earlier strata were in place before she met Mathers or joined the organization.

Professor Bryan Griffith Dobbs writes:

Once again, the general xenophobia of the time in England, coupled with both anti-Judaism and antisemitism, meant that the last people to be consulted about what their tradition actually meant were the Jews.

Richard Brzustowicz comments:

If Moina Mathers had provided all of Mathers' Hebrew erudition, of course, this would not be accurate, since in learning from her he would have been consulting a Jew.  (But since most of his work on such things was undertaken before he had met her, this does not seem likely.)

It simply is not clear to me, as a historical point, that antisemitism is the best explanation for the lack of connection between esotericist interest in Kabbalah and the living Jewish tradition.  In 1999 Seattle I can walk a few blocks to the local Chabad House (or a few more blocks in the other direction to a major Sakya [Tibetan Buddhist] monastery); a few more blocks in another direction will take me to a university where I can study Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, as well as Pali, Tibetan Sanskrit and Chinese.  In 1885 London, both the Hasidic and Tibetan worlds were, though not utterly unavailable, rather farther away.

If Scholem is to be taken seriously, one of the effects of the Jewish Enlightenment was to give the impression that Kabbalah was a thing of the past, and not (or no longer) part of core Judaism.  In such a context, it isn't necessarily antisemitism that leads outsiders to suppose that Kabbalah had fallen into the same sort of desuetude among Jews as Agrippan magic had among gentiles.

posted on the Donmeh mail list
Thu, 10 Jun 1999



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