P - The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism: Second Edition (2016)

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism: Second Edition (2016)


Padiel: (58991). “Redeemer of God.” Sar of the fourth celestial precinct, he guards the Gate of Mercy by which the prayers of the repentant reach God (Zohar II:249a).

Padkaras: (58989). An angel of the Divine Countenance (Sar ha-Panim) mentioned in Ma’aseh Merkavah. It is unclear whether this is just an alternate name for Metatron or an angel in its own right.

Pairs: (58987/Zugot). The doubling of a variety of things is a source of bad luck. According to the Talmud (Pes. 109b-110b) activities done twice in a row or in pairs, such as eating, drinking, or copulation, invites the attention of evil spirits once the person leaves his or her home. Thus, one should neither celebrate a double joy (like two Weddings), nor perform the same onerous task twice (such as a judge passing the same sentence) all on the same day. Even drinking from two cups, one after the other, invites bad luck or the evil eye. (Pes. 109b; En Yaakov ad loc.). On a different but related note, the Book of the Name warns the adept not to look in the face of a twin for forty days after reading the book.

Asmodeus is the demon that has power over this vulnerability. The Talmud passage explains how to militate against demonic attack by using the rule of pairs:

If a person forgot [not to go out when demons are most prevalent] and went out, what should he do? He should clasp his right thumb in the fingers of his left hand, and vice versa, and say, “I and my fingers are three.” If he hears a voice say, “You and I are four,” he should respond, “You and I are five,” and so on, until the demon gets angry and leaves. (Pes. 110a)

Palace: (589841/Heichal). In the Bible, the term is used interchangeably for both a Temple and a palace, probably because in the Iron Age both buildings were part of a larger “government compound.” Starting in apocalyptic writings and early Jewish mysticism, heichal becomes a standard term for a plane, level, or principality of heaven; often Eden is specifically mentioned as residing in a celestial Hechalot (PdRE 12). There are seven Hechalot (pl.) that constitute the divine residence, a kind of vast celestial complex, a supernal analogy to the agora or forum of Greek and Roman cities.

Modern writers will sometimes refer to the Hechalot literature traditions as “Palace Mysticism,” though probably in the minds of these ancient mystics they are really more focused on the archetype of the Temple when they were describing each heavenly heichal, with guardian angels patterned on the guardian Cherubim that stood in the Jerusalem Temple:

Said Rabbi Ishmael: Thus did Rabbi Nechunyiah say to me: Totrosi’ai the Lord God of Israel of Hosts sits within seven palaces, one within another. And at the entrance of each palace are eight doorkeepers … 1

In later medieval thought, the palatial theme becomes more evident, with the Hechalot of heaven being described in terms of walled gardens, splendid chambers of repose, and other images more associated with noble residences, as Maimonides does in his parable about the question for divine knowledge:

I say then: The ruler is in his palace, and all his subjects are partly within the city and partly outside the city. Of those who are within the city, some have turned their backs upon the ruler’s habitation, their faces being turned another way. Others seek to reach the ruler’s habitation, turn toward it, and desire to enter it and to stand before him, but up to now they have not yet seen the wall of the habitation. Some of those who seek to reach it have come up to the habitation and walked around it searching for its gate. Some of them have entered the gate and walked about in the antechambers. Some of them have entered the inner court of the habitation and have come to be with the king, in one and the same place with him, namely, in the ruler’s habitation. But their having come into the inner part of the habitation does not mean that they see the ruler or speak to him. For after their coming into the inner part of the habitation, it is indispensable that they should make another effort; then they will be in the presence of the ruler, see him from afar or from nearby, or hear the ruler’s speech or speak to him.2

Portraying God as a king dwelling in a palace is a common parabolic image in Midrash and Chasidic stories (Gen. R. 15:22; Tales of Rabbi Nachman). The Zohar reports there to be seven celestial palaces and seven corresponding palaces of impurity (I:194a; II:262b-269a). There are a number of esoterically important “palaces,” both literal and metaphoric, in Jewish literature. SEE PALACE OF THE BIRD’S NEST; PALACE OF THE NUT; PALACE OF SPLENDOR; SEVEN HEAVENS.; THRONE OF GLORY.

1. G. Scholem and M. Smith, “Hekhalot Rabbati: Greater Treatise Concerning the Palaces of Heaven,” accessed 2015, http://www.digital-brilliance.com/kab/karr/HekRab/HekRab.pdf, 36.

2. S. Pines, Guide for the Perplexed, vol. 3 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 51.

Palace of Love: This celestial precinct is Tiferet. The souls of the pure are received there (Zohar I:44b; Zohar II:97a, 146b).

Palace of Splendor or Glimmering Palace: (59016/Heichal Nogah). One of the many palace of the Messiah, it is built from supernal letters and is found in the precincts of the Garden of Eden. There the Messiah and the Righteous dead gather on the Sabbath (Zohar I:7b; BhM, vol. 3, 135-36).

Palace of the Bird’s Nest: (59009/Heichal Kan ha-Tor or Kan Tzipor). The hidden dwelling place of the Messiah once he leaves the Garden of Eden. From there, he is able to view the suffering of Israel in preparation for his coming (Zohar II:7b-9a; Zohar III:196b; SGE; ShB 42). The Bird’s Nest is the celestial launch pad for the Messiah’s entry into the world:

On that day, the King Messiah will arouse, emerging from the Garden of Eden, form the place called the Bird’s Nest, and he will arouse the land of Galilee. On the day when he emerges, the whole world will tremble … (Zohar II:27b)


Palace of the Nut: ( 59006/Heichal ha-Egoz). One of the palaces within Eden, this one is derived from a verse in Song of Songs, “let us go down into the nut garden” (S of S 6:11; Ginnat Egoz). It is regarded to be the place of the yeshiva shel malah, the academy on high, where the Righteous dead gather to study Torah. In some sources, it is synonymous with the messianic Palace of Splendor (SGE).


Papyri, Magical: Greco-Roman documents of late antiquity containing magical formulae, rituals, and designs for amulets. Almost universally written in Greek, they often combine Jewish, Christian, and Pagan divine names in the incantations. The magical papyri have many parallels to Hebrew magical texts from the same period, texts like Sefer ha-Razim, Sword Of Moses, and the magical recipe books of the Cairo Geniza, and both Greek and Hebrew texts clearly arise out of the same milieu, though the degree of resemblance varies according to how much the Jewish authors take seriously the rules and admonitions of the Sages. Thus the gentile papyri put a premium on adjuring a wide range of Pagan deities (along with the God of Israel), using magical props and materials, and on spells for cursing or binding one’s enemies. Depending on the scruples of the author, Hebrew magical books will incorporate these same features to some degree, but may at times substitute the names of angels for deities, or avoid non-kosher ingredients, or emphasize the role of the magical word by reducing or avoiding entirely the use of magical objects and devices.1 SEE INCANTATIONS, SPELLS, AND ADJURATIONS; MAGIC; NAME OF GOD; PERMUTATIONS; SORCERY; SYMPATHY; WITCH AND WITCHCRAFT.

1. H. D. Betz, Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996). Also see B. Kern-Ulmer, “The Depiction of Magic in Rabbinic Texts: The Rabbinic and Greek Concept of Magic,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 27, no. 3 (1996).

Paradox: Jews find great value in considering the truths encompassed by paradoxes, or seemingly contradictory ideas.1 Paradox creates a polarity between two teachings, resulting in an instructive tension.

This sense of paradox is rooted in the Hebrew Bible itself. The rabbis of antiquity taught that the reason God appeared to Moses in a burning bush was to teach him no place is devoid of divinity. Yet Moses still experiences the presence of God “outside” himself and it is described as a personal encounter with a personal God, with dialogue, disagreement, and command.

Paradoxes such as this help illustrate the limits of human language in describing the ineffable truths of existence. Of course, on high all paradoxes are reconciled (Tikkun; Yichud), though in ways beyond human comprehension.

The role of paradox in the religious life gets its most sophisticated treatment in Chasidic mystical theology.2

For example, the Hasidic theology of Berdichev and CHaBaD regard God as simultaneously “No-thing” and “The All.” We are part of the All, and therefore nothing in ourselves:

Where I wander—You./Where I ponder—You./Only You, You again, always You./You! You! You!/ When I’m gladdened—You./When I am saddened—You./Only You, You again, always You./You! You! You!/Sky is You. Earth is You./You above. You below./In every trend, at every end/Only You, You again, always You./You! You! You! 3

Yitzchak Levi’s song is a paean to the unity of all things in God, yet it is premised on a dualistic point of view; there is myself (Yitzchak) and there is You (God). Jewish mysticism holds all live in this paradox. Nachman of Bratzlav once declared, in a playful twist on Jewish pessimism:

Gevalt! Zeit eich nit meyaesh/ Woe is me! There is no despair in this world. (Likkutei Mohanan II:78)

In addressing God as a subject (or Buber’s I and Thou—Buber opens his magnum opus by saying that the world is “two-fold”), the Berdichev Rebbe acknowledges that the creatures of the material world cannot escape experiencing the world as multiplicity.

1. Verman, The Books of Contemplation, 59-60, 158-159.

2. Green, Jewish Spirituality, vol. 2, 164-73.

3. M. Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters (New York, Shocken Books, 1947), 212.

Paralyzation: Certain Jewish saints were credited with the power to paralyze evildoers. The great Babylonian scholar Chai ben Sherira Gaon discusses a belief among Jews that olive tree leaves inscribed with divine names could immobilize bandits. Jonathan Eybeschitz also claimed the power to paralyze those who threatened him (Otzer ha-Geonim; Beit Yonatan ha-Sofer).

Pardes or PaRDeS: (59025/Persian). “Paradise.” This term has multiple meanings. Exoterically, it refers to a garden (S o S 4:13). In time it becomes a locution for either the Garden of Eden or of the heavenly afterlife, because the term is forever associated with the cryptic Talmudic story of the four Sages who entered Pardes (Chag. 14b). From this passage it also serves as a metonym for the phenomenon of the mystical experience.

PaRDeSalso functions as a hermeneutic typology, being read as an acronym for four methods of Scriptural interpretation: Pashat (authoritative or plain-meaning), Remez (allegorical or philosophic), Drash (homiletical or Midrashic), and Sod (esoteric or mystical). The meanings of these four terms is not are not universally agreed upon; different interpreters of the fourfold hermeneutic will assign each term slightly different meaning (i.e., remez can mean “allegorical” to some, “parabolic” to another, or “legal reasoning” to yet another). Pardes also carries the connotation of sacred study in toto. SEE BIBLE; FOUR SAGES; MIDRASH; NUT; ORAL TORAH OR LAW; SECRET; TALMUD;TORAH.

Pardes Rimmonim: “Garden of Pomegranates.” The mystical magnum opus of Safed Kabbalist Moses Cordovero. It is perhaps the most comprehensive and systematic presentation of classical Kabbalah ever written. It also contains many teachings about mystical theosophy, angel- and demonology, and theurgy.

Pargod: “Curtain.” The supernal curtain that separates God from the rest of heaven . Those who can overhear the voices behind it, such as the dead or the ascendant mystic, can learn the future (Chag. 16a; Yoma 77a; Ber. 18b; PdRE 4, 6). SEE SEVEN HEAVENS.; THRONE OF GLORY.

Partzufim: ( 59035). “Countenances.” First outlined in the Zohar, this metaphysical concept is more fully developed by Isaac Luria. According to the Lurianic cosmogony, after the catastrophe of the breaking of the vessels, the shattering of the primeval structure of light, the Ein Sof reconstitutes the fragments of the cosmic order into five “countenances” or “visages” that are able to mediate between supernal and material realities in a way the primordial vessels were not. Think of the Partzufim as analogous to a “patch” for a faulty computer program.1

The Partzufim interact with humanity in the work of Tikkun. These countenances also constitute and encompass the personal dimensions of God that are described in biblical and rabbinic writings. This aspect of Lurianic thought has a complex relationship with the sefirotic structure of classic Kabbalah , not unlike the “wave/particle” phenomenon in quantum physics. Thus whether the divine structure manifests itself as the sefirot or as the Partzufim depends on certain conditions, but they are essentially two aspects of the same divine force. The five countenances are:

Arikh Anpin: The “long/great countenance,” also called the Atik Yamim (“Ancient of Days”).

Abba: “Father,” the male aspect of the divine gamos is linked to the sefirot of keter and/or Chochmah.

Ima: “Mother,” the celestial mother is tied to Binah.

Zer (or Zaur) Anpin/Ben: “The short/lesser countenance.” Product of the union of Abba and Ima, it is tied to the lower six sefirot: Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod.

Kallah/Malchah/Bat: “Bride/Queen.” The feminine counterpart to Zer Anpin, she is linked to Malchut.

The Partzufim, like their sefirotic counterparts, are also integral to the notion of the restoration of the Adam Kadmon , the cosmic human. In a kind of inverted “imitato dei,” all human actions that advance the cause of cosmic restoration are mimicked by the Partzufim.2 Thus humans help to activate them and ensure the healing flow of divine energies between higher and lower worlds.

1. Scholem, Kabbalah, 140-44.

2. M. Faierstein, Jewish Mystical Autobiographies: Book of Visions and Book of Secrets (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999), 28-29. Also see Green, Jewish Spirituality, vol. 2, 65-70.

Passover: (59039/Pesach, also Chag ha-Aviv; Chag ha-Matzot). The holiday of Passover, which is celebrated every spring, is based on the miraculous events of the Exodus.

The word for the holiday, Pesach, normally translated as “passover,” more properly simply means “protection,” in the sense of apotropaic/spiritual protection (the Assyrian cognate verb means to “placate [a spirit]”). The blood of the first paschal animal (a lamb or goat) offering served as talismanic ritual against Death entering the home of the Israelites.


The destroyer outside an Israelite home on Passover night

In both pietist and kabbalistic traditions of Judaism, all of the elements of the Passover are thought to have spiritual-theurgic power. The burning of all leaven on the eve of Passover, for example, is meant to symbolize the destruction of the Yetzer Ha-Ra. in one’s self, a task which, like removing all leaven, can never be perfectly achieved (J. Ber. 4:2, 7d).

Central to the holiday is unleavened bread: (matzah). A large, cracker-like wafer that is eaten throughout the holiday of Passover in place of risen bread. It is eaten to commemorate both the slavery and liberation our ancestors experienced. It is therefore a symbol of paradox: it simultaneously symbolizes slavery and freedom. Matzah is made using only specially supervised (keeping it free from exposure to airborne yeast) wheat and water (the essential nutrients for life). It is then baked no more than eighteen minutes (the number symbolizing life).

It is a symbol of ritual and spiritual purity; Jews eat matzah free of leaven just as we must free ourselves of the “leaven” of ego, sin, and old habits. At the Seder, three pieces of matzah are prominently displayed, reminding Jews of both the three Biblical classes of Jews (priest, Levite, and Israelite) and of the three mythic epochs (the Garden of Eden, historic time, and the time of the Messiah ).

One aspect of unleavened bread that has particular occult symbolism is the Afikoman. The Afikoman is one-half of a matzah wafer that is publicly broken, only to be hidden away during the Seder. Children must then find it or steal it from the holder in order for the Seder to continue. Originally intended as a pedagogical tool to keep the attention of children during the ceremony, by the Middle Ages the Afikoman became an object of life-giving power and started to be used as an amulets against the evil eye. Customs include preserving a piece at home for good luck, while some may actually carry crumbs of the Afikoman in their coat pockets. Pregnant women can keep a piece of Afikoman nearby to ensure an easy labor. According to one tradition, an Afikoman kept seven years can avert a flood or other natural disaster.1

In expounding on the proper observance of Pesach (M. Pesach 8), Rabbani Gamliel requires at a minimum that participants explain the symbolism of two more objects at the Seder aside from the matzah: the Pesach (“shankbone”) and Maror (“bitter herb”). Both these objects have well-defined exoteric meanings alluding to the Exodus from Egypt. But there are more objects and gestures in the ritual that get little or no explicit explanation. These are the “objects that don’t know how to explain themselves.”

The first is the charoset, a fruit and nut compote. The conventional explanation offered is that it represents the mortar with which the ancestors set the bricks during their slavery. Yet this interpretation is a contrived ex post facto interpretation. Why would the mortar binding Jews to misery be sweet? The real purpose is esoteric, that the ingredients are drawn directly from foods mentioned in Song of Songs—fruits, wine, nuts, and spices. Since the early mystics understand the Song of Songs to be God’s inner thoughts at the time of Exodus, this garden of metaphors signifies the divine passion (i.e., “Your kisses are sweeter than wine” S of S 1:2) for the people Israel. The charoset then is not a reminder of a concrete task, but a mimetic reminder of God’s love for Israel at the time of Pesach and a reminder to God to extend that love to their descendants.

Then there is the second lettuce (hazeret). It is puzzling as to why there needs to be a second herb on the Seder plate besides the horseradish or Romaine lettuce, which serves as the “bitter herb” of biblical precedent. While a Mishnah on the Seder mentions hazeret as well as maror, regard the terms as synonymous. Seder presentation before the 16th century only had five objects, while virtually all rituals today have six to accommodate this second herb. The hazeret has its roots in Lurianic mysticism, which insists on this added component in order to better represent the Partzufim, the mystical divine structure. By having the lettuce as well as the horseradish, there are then ten components (three Matzot, zaroa, carpas, maror, beitzah, charoset, hazeret and the Seder plate that holds them) to the Seder that parallel the ten sefirotic elements (Keter, Chochmah, Binah, Gevurah, Chesed, Tiferet, Hod, Netzach, Yesod, Malchut).

Finally, there is a roasted egg. This is to remind the participants of the Chagigah (festival) sacrifice made in the Temple at Pesach. The egg is chosen so as not confuse that offering with the Pesach lamb once eaten as part of the Seder—in ancient times lambs were offered both at home and in the Temple.

Finally, Elijah, known as the “Angel/messenger of the Covenant” (Mal. 3:1), is invited to partake in the meal. Elijah is understood to be the herald of the Messiah, as well as the figure who will restore the power of Prophecy to the people Israel. Therefore his presence is invoked at every Passover Seder and a cup of wine is set out for him in welcome and in the hope that he will resolve all controversies in Jewish tradition (Haggadah).

Much of the Seder ritual is constructed around groupings of fours: four questions, four sons, and four cups of wine. In practice, there are a number of theurgic and magical customs that have become associated with the holiday and the apparatus of its observance. The most famous of these is the medieval incantation known as the sixteen-sided sword of the Almighty, which, interestingly enough, is also a multiple of four.2 SEE PRAYER; UNLEAVENED BREAD; WINE.

1. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 134, 295.

2. Kanarfogel, Peering through the Lattices, 137-38.

Patriarchs and Matriarchs: (59049/Avot and Imahot). Declared by the Sages to be the “Pillars of the World,” Jewish mystics also assign great metaphysical significance to the first ancestors of the Jews, primarily Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, and Joseph, but sometimes others, also.

God created the world only for the sake of Abraham coming into existence. The Patriarchs are the “chariots” of God in the world; in effect they were a kind of “incarnation” of God’s presence. The Zohar calls Abraham the “four legs” of the Throne of Glory (Gen. R. 47:6; Zohar I:5, 78a).

Because of their merit, God continues to forgive the sins of the people Israel, their children. Often the dead ancestors are portrayed as intervening in heaven on behalf of their living descendants (PdRE 44). The Matriarchs can be appealed to in prayer and supplication to intercede before the Throne of Glory on behalf of both individuals and the whole people. The names of the Matriarchs are considered particularly powerful, and are invoked in healing prayers and protective amulets.1

In the Zohar, Abraham and Isaac represent antipodal divine forces, Chesed, Love, and Gevurah, Fear; these forces are reconciled in balance through Jacob. Out of that balancing of cosmic energy, the people Israel sprang into being (Zohar, I:169a; Zohar II:54a-b). SEE ANCESTORS; IRON; RIGHTEOUS, THE.

1. Kanarfogel, Peering through the Lattices, 137-38, 143; Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 2, 910 figure 8b.

Payh: (59053). Seventeenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It has a dual vocalic value, being a “p” if a diacritical mark is placed in its middle, or an “f” if one is not. Payh also has a sofit form (59055), in which the curved bottom of the letter is straightened into a vertical line. Payh has the numeric value of eighty. The word payh itself means “mouth,” which the shape of the letter resembles. The letter therefore symbolizes speech and, because we are the “speaking animal,” humanity.1

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 180-89.

Pelotit: The daughter of Lot. In both the Bible and rabbinic literature, Lot is portrayed as an unsavory character, so it is not clear why he deserves to be rescued from doomed Sodom; perhaps the merit of Abraham protected him. His daughter, on the other hand, was a noble figure. Despite the laws of Sodom that prohibited hospitality to the needy, she secretly fed the hungry by various clever subterfuges. When she was finally caught, she was burned alive by the inhabitants of Sodom. It was her cry for justice (Gen. 18:21) that brought God’s wrath down upon the cities (PdRE 25; Sanh. 108b; Gen. R. 49:6; Sefer ha-Yashar, Vayera).

Pentagram: The five-pointed star so familiar to Western occult practitioners is first linked to Solomon in the Greek-language document, The Testament of Solomon, where it is revealed to have the power to subdue demons. Non-Jewish sources sometimes refer to it as the “Seal of Solomon,” while later Jewish sources use the same title for the hexagram. Pentagrams reappear from time to time in Hebrew magical and alchemical texts, and on amulets, but very little written lore about their significance in Jewish occultism exists. The hexagram takes on much greater significance for Jews. SEE MAGEN DAVID.

Perek Shirah: A poem, purportedly by Solomon, recounting the praises that animals, plants, and all creation, from the heavens to dogs, utter for their Creator, all constructed from biblical and Talmudic verses. All who recite it daily will be delivered from the fires of Gehenna.

Permutations: Jewish magical and mystical texts frequently feature long strings of permutated letters. Most often these permutations are derived from the letters that make up a name of God. Reciting these repetitions aloud as part of a spell presumably had some kind of mantra-like hypnotic effect.

The use of permutations of names, particularly the Tetragrammaton, was probably a merging of the Jewish ideology of the powerful divine name with a Greek belief in the divine meaning of vowels. As the Greek philosopher Nicomachus wrote:

And the tones [vowel sounds] of the seven spheres, each of which by nature produces a particular sound [seven vowel sounds in Greek, corresponding the seven heavens] are the source of the nomenclature of the vowels. These are described as unpronounceable in themselves and in all their combinations by wise men … However, when they are combined with the materiality of the consonants … they have potencies which are efficacious and perfective of divine things. Thus theurgists … make invocation symbolically with hissing, clucking, and discordant sounds.1

The Church Father Eusebius also recorded a teaching that the Tetragrammaton was actually the seven vowels reduced to four (Preparation for the Gospels 11.6). Once there was circulating this ideology that the four-letter name was really compounded of all vowels (yud is a diphthong—“y”, “i”, “ee”; vav can serve double duty as an holam—“oh”, “oo”; and hay, which can also do double duty in Hebrew as a marker for “ah”), then all these ideas (the power of the Name, the divinity of vowel sounds, the Name as divine expression of the cosmic vowels) came together so that the theurgic and ritual power possibilities of the Tetragrammaton began to be fully exploited. In Hebrew rituals of power, combining the divine letters with cycles of vowel sounds harmonizes the material and celestial spheres and activates divine forces to respond to the earthly adept. This was perceived as a dangerous venture, but one that promised access to power and wisdom.

An example of this would be an incantation of angel summoning found in the Sword Of Moses. that has a string of permutation based mostly on the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, yud, hay, vav, and hay. Transliterated, the passage looks like this: HU HI HHI HU HH AH UH IH IH HUI HU HI HU NA HUH IHU IA HU HU IH IHU HI HU IA IH UH HU IA HU HUA HU IH UH HU HUH IHI HU IH AHIH MH UH. The logic by which these permutations are ordered, and the rationale for introducing other letters into the mantra, is now lost to us. Permutations also appear in Jewish meditation practices and, in less esoteric form, in Jewish liturgy in hymns like “Ein Keloheinu.” 2

1. Janowitz, Icons of Power, 6-7.

2. Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah, 76-92.

Perush Sodot ha-Tefillah: “Commentary on Secrets of the prayer [Service].” A collection of esoteric teachings concerning the statutory prayers and rituals of Jewish worship written by Eleazar of Worms.

Pesach: “Passover.” The spring festival that celebrates the Exodus from Egypt. SEE PASSOVER.

Pesak ha-Yira’ah v’ha-Emunah: “Opinion on the Awe and the Faith.” This treatise, purportedly written by Joseph ben Uziel but actually a work of the Circle of the Special Cherub, is devoted to the mystical significance of prayer and to experiencing a vision of God akin to those described in the Bible.1 SEE CHERUB, THE UNIQUE.

1. Dan, The ‘Unique Cherub’ Circle, 101-24.

Pesher: A style of Bible interpretation found in the Dead Sea Scrolls that treats biblical prophecies of the past as referring to events contemporary to the interpreter. Pesher interpretations have all but vanished from Jewish hermeneutics in the past two thousand years, but a form of pesher is alive and well in some circles of Christianity, where books such as Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth still treat ancient apocalypses as blow-by-blow accounts of current world events.

Pesikta de-Rav Kahana: An early medieval Midrash devoted to the Sabbath cycles that especially focuses on stories of the destruction and future redemption of Jerusalem. It preserves some Jewish fantastic beliefs.

Pesikta Rabbati: Medieval Midrash on the holidays that records some Jewish fantastic traditions.

Pesikta Zutarti: Medieval Midrash on the Torah that is a source of Jewish fantastic traditions.

Petachiah of Regnesburg: Medieval adventurer (German, ca. 12th century). In his travels around the Jewish world, he recorded many wonders: miraculous tombs of Jewish heroes, wells that refused to provide water on the Sabbath, and fabulous traces of biblical events throughout the Holy Land.1

1. A. Unterman, Dictionary of Jewish Lore & Legend (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991), 154-55.

Petayah, Judah: Rabbi and exorcist (Iraqi, ca. 19th-20th century). He is the author of Minchat Yehudah, a book that includes his interviews with spirits­—conversations that provided detailed accounts of the spirit world and how it interfaces with the human world.1

1. Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism, 177.

Petichat ha-Lev: (59084). “Opening the Heart.” A type of paranormal ritual meant to speed the memorization and mastery of Torah teachings. The ritual involves writing a magical incantation on either a cake or a hard-boiled egg, the first ever laid by a hen, and then eating the enchanted object. This conjures the angelic Sar ha-Torah and/or the Sar ha-Panim, who comes to the aid of the spellcaster. SEE ANGEL; METATRON; SUMMONING.

Phallus: The phallus as a symbol of the source of life and of salvation has a long established history in Jewish interpretation (Gen. 17; Ex. R. 1:20; Zohar I:6a, 197b). One sage calls it the “peacemaker of the home” (Shab. 152a).

More controversial than the role of the human penis in Jewish thought is the idea of God having a kind of spiritual analog to a phallus. A few modern scholars have attempted to argue that there was a “cult of the Divine Phallus” present in biblical religion. This argument has usually hinged on the special place of circumcision as a “mark of the covenant.” Such theories have proved largely unpersuasive. Quite a number of Pagan cults existed in the ancient world that explicitly celebrated the cosmic phallus, such as the cults of Osiris and of Thor, but did not require their male devotees to modify their own penises. On the flip side, Israel is not the only culture that has the custom of circumcision, and there seems to be no obvious correlation across cultures between ritual circumcision and penis adoration. Arguments that there are veiled references to God’s phallus in the Bible are even more tendentious. Rabbinic texts are likewise almost entirely bereft of such sacra-erotic speculations. One Hechalot text, however, Hechalot Rabbati, features a brief description of a sexually charged dance performed by the angels before the Throne of Glory.

Zoharic Kabbalah, however, is centered on a blatantly erotic interpretation of the Godhead, dividing the functions of the sefirot into male and female sides. The Zohar includes multiple interpretations built around a concept of God’s “genitals. “Using a phrase in Isaiah, “behold the King in his beauty” (33:17) as its springboard, the Zohar interprets the word for yofi, “beauty,” as a euphemism for a divine member. Tikkunei Zohar explicitly claims the “divine image” that God bestowed upon man (but not upon woman) is the penis (I:62b, 94b). The Zohar also interprets a passage from Job, “In my flesh I see God, “as a reference to the human penis being in “the image of God.” Depending on the interpretation one reads (the Zohar is often difficult to track on this topic), this supernal phallus is manifest in one or the other of two sefirot, Tiferet (Beauty) and Yesod (Foundation) (Zohar I: discussion throughout Lech Lecha and Vayera).

To add to the confusion, apparently unlike the human member, the supernal “phallus” is actually an androgynous entity (Bahir 61). Specifically, the corona of the divine member represents the Shekhinah/Yesod, the feminine aspect of divinity, while masculine Tiferet is identified with the circumcised penis [shaft?]. Once Yesod unites with Tiferet, the feminine “waters” (read: “vaginal fluid”) of Malchut/Shekhinah flow “upward.” This in turn triggers the flow of masculine “waters” (read: “semen”) into her, thereby receiving its seed. Through these commingled divine male and female principles comes the outpouring of the supernal waters that enliven and fructify the lower worlds, sustaining Creation.1

This vivid mystical ideology of a sexually charged deity has been a scandal to more philosophically—and rationally—minded Jews and a public embarrassment even to mystically inclined yet prudish Jews who have come after the Zohar. As a result, to this day it is very difficult to get a clear statement about this aspect of Zoharic metaphysics from even the most committed Kabbalists. SEE GODHEAD; ZER ANPIN..

1. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines, 326-80; Scholem, Kabbalah, 225-28; Scholem, On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, 106-15.

Pharaoh: According to rabbinic legend, the Pharaoh of the Exodus did not die with his troops. Instead, he left Egypt and became the king of Nineveh. There he finally submitted to God’s will when the prophet Jonah appeared (PdRE 43).

Pharmacopoeia: Jews of the ancient and medieval world used a wide variety of materials for homeopathic, medical, and magical purposes. Mandrake, for example, has been an ingredient in love potions since biblical times (Gen. 30). But it is Rabbinic literature that preserves many herbal and dietary remedies. Medicinal uses for herbs found in the Talmud include:

Asparagus: beer or broth made from it is beneficial to both heart and eyes.

Bitter vetch: good for the bowels.

Black cumin: eases chest pain.

Dates: for hemorrhoids and constipation.

Radishes and lettuce: aid digestion.

Small cucumbers: laxative.

Garlic: improves virility, increases circulation, and kills intestinal parasites.

Milt: for teeth.

Lentils: prevent croup.

Mustard and asparagus: general preventatives.

Beets and onions: good for general healing. (Ber. 40b, 44b, 51a; AZ 11a; B.K. 82a)

In addition to these, some herbs were thought to have influence over supernatural forces. Fennel, for example, was prized for driving away evil spirits.

Hebrew magical formulae also make extensive use of herbs and compounds, mostly organic, but also metals. A comprehensive list is beyond the scope of this work, but here is a partial list of compounds and objects taken from Sefer ha-Razim:



ox brain

bay leaves


precious stones






















dog meat











When a Hebrew magical text does include rituals involving materials and/or objects, they are usually deployed in one of two ways: either as sacrifices—burning incense, or throwing a gold plaque into the sea, for example—or as material analogies for the reality being influenced, such as breaking a bowl to break the power of a demon or using human sweat to make love potions.1

Chasidic rebbes have their own updated arsenal of products: unleavened bread; foods, etrogs, and oil previously used in religious rituals; or potions made from ingredients like those listed above.2 SEE FOOD; HEALING; MAGIC;POISON; SEGULAH Or Segulot.

1. Janowitz, Icons of Power, 70-78.

2. Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians, and Doctors, 136, 147-48.

Philosopher’s Stone: An object, sometimes described (when it is described at all) as a rock or mineral, that can serve as a catalyst for the transformation of metals and other, even greater, feats. At times the stone is interpreted as an allegory for something more abstract, such as the mind, or a specific theosophical insight.

This key device in the work of alchemy is closely associated with a number of Jewish figures, starting with biblical characters. Alchemists theorized that the long life spans credited to the Patriarchs were a result of their mastery of alchemical sciences, and specifically, their possessing a philosopher’s stone. It is this stone that Jacob slept upon when he had his angelic dream. Some have speculated that the Urim and Thummim is connected to it. Both David and Solomon have been credited with possessing one.1

1. Schwarz, Kabbalah and Alchemy, 13, 23, 50-51. Also see Patai, The Jewish Alchemists.


Phoenix: (59105/Chol, also Milham). This fiery mythological bird stirs with the sun each day and lives for a thousand years, after which it is consumed by fire, only to rise from its own ashes and live again (Midrash Samuel). The biblical basis for this bird in Jewish mythology is Job 29:18. The phoenix achieved this unique status as an immortal bird because it refrained from bothering the overburdened Noah during the Flood voyage (Sanh. 108b; Gen. R. 19:5).

Physiognomy: The study of a person’s physical features (face, hands, hair, gait) as a means to understand their soul or character (Ben Sira 19:29-30). This is not a widely known practice in Jewish circles, though we have several examples: two documents among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q186 and 4Q561) are physiognomic texts that teach that a person’s spiritual and moral state is revealed by the shape of his or her teeth, eyes, and other Body parts. A Hechalot text, called Hakkarat Panim l’Rabbi Yishmael, uses physiological criteria to determine if one is suited to learning mystical knowledge.1 In a most unusual variation, Sefer Chasidim teaches that various ticks, itches, tingles, and other bodily irritations without obvious causation are actually omens of future events (162). The Zohar also takes some interest in the art (I:96b; II:71a-78a; ZCh 35b-37c). Isaac Luria and various Baalei Shem, such as Jonathan Eybeschitz, also had the ability to judge a person’s character based on examining the face.2

1. Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, 218-24. Also see Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 48.

2. Scholem, ibid.

Pidyon ha-Ben: (59119). SEERANSOM.

Pidyon Nefesh: (59122). A donation for the support of a spiritual virtuoso, a baal shem, or a righteous person. SEE KVITTEL.

Pikulin: A term found in the Zohar for a mystical explanation regarding the purpose of a commandment.

Pillars: (59124/Amud). Cosmic pillars form the foundation upon which the world rests. The Bible suggests they sit upon the floodwaters of the abyss (1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 104:3). TheZohar states that they stand upon rucha, divine spirit, which in turn stands upon the Torah (Zohar I:77a). Each pillar is made up of the fiery divine substance called Chashmal (Mid. Konen 2:32-33).

Some say there are twelve such pillars; others say there are seven (Chag. 12b). In Pirke Avot, it is said the world stands upon three metaphorical pillars: worship, Torah, and acts of love (1:2). Elsewhere in the Talmud, basing his argument on Proverbs 10:25, Rabbi Eleazar claims there is only one pillar upon which the world stands: Righteousness. Taking this logic one step further, he declares the Patriarchs to be the pillar that sustains the universe (Shab. 88a, 119b). The Bahir describes the great “tree that is all,” which is also called a pillar, which also, implicitly, a phallus , which connects heaven and Earth:

There is a single pillar extending from earth to heaven, and its name is Righteous. [The pillar] is named after the righteous. For if there are righteous people in the world, then it is strengthened, but if there are not, it is weakened. It supports the world, as it is written, And righteousness is the foundation of the world (Prov. 10:25). If it weakens, then it cannot sustain the world. Therefore, even if there is but one righteous person in the world, it is he who supports the world. Thus it is written, And a righteous [one] is the foundation of the world. (102; also see 22; 119)

In the Zohar the pillar, also symbolizing the divine phallus, takes on great metaphysical significance (Zohar I:186a). SEE PATRIARCHS AND MATRIARCHS; PHALLUS; RIGHTEOUS, THE.

Pinchas: High priest and grandson of Aaron. He achieved fame by thwarting a plague sweeping the Israelite camp in a most extraordinary manner—by impaling an Israelite prince and his Moabite paramour while they engaged in illicit (perhaps ritual) sex (Num. 25). Zohar teaches that his soul was possessed by the dead sons of Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu, who led him to bold action as a Tikkun for their sins (2:26b). He was one of the spies Joshua sent into Jericho, where he demonstrated the power to make himself invisible (Num. R. 26:1). He ascended to heaven, like Elijah, by pronouncing the Tetragrammaton (J Targum Numbers 31:8).Later tradition claims Elijah, also an exemplar of zealousness, was Pinchas reincarnated (PdRE 29, 47; Num. R. 21:3). One tradition claims he and Elijah were actually incarnations of the Ofan angel Sandalfon.

Pinchas ben Yair: Talmudic Sage and wonderworker (ca. 3rd century). Either the son-in-law of Simon bar Yochai (Talmud), or his father-in-law (Zohar), Pinchas was famous for his miraculous feats. He communed with animals and natural entities. He once caused a river to split in order that he and those traveling with him could cross on dry ground. He even resurrected the dead (Chul. 7a-b; J. De. 1:3).

Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer (PdRE): A Midrash, credited to the Talmudic Sage Eliezer ben Hycanus, which contains many fantastic traditions and esoteric teachings. It is arranged as a continuous narrative, giving an account from Creation to the coming of the Messiah. It focuses extensively on the events of Creation, and includes esoteric traditions about the angels, Adam Kadmon , and the expulsion from Eden.

Pirke de-Rabbi Ishmael (PdRI): An alternative name for Hechalot Rabbati.

Pirke Hechalot: An alternate title for Hechalot Rabbati.

Pishon: (59153). One of the four rivers that flowed from Eden (Gen. 2). In the Zohar, it signifies the “right side” of the divine emanations flowing through the sefirot(I: 181b).

Pitron Chalomot: The most comprehensive Jewish book on dream interpretation and oneiromancy, Pitron Chalomot was written by Solomon ben Jacob Almoli.

Piznai: (59151). A lilot/succubuswho seduces men and breeds demon children from their semen (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews 5:166). SEE NOCTURNAL EMISSION.

Plagues: The ten plagues that God employed to humble Pharaoh and Egypt (Ex. 4-12) are repeatedly called “great and awesome signs and wonders” and are the archetypal manifestations of divine judgment. The ten plagues are as follows:

1. Blood

2. Frogs

3. Lice (or gnats)

4. Wild beasts (or flies)

5. Cattle disease

6. Boils

7. Hail

8. Locusts

9. Darkness

10. Death of the firstborn

In Deuteronomy, God assures Israel that the “plagues of the Egyptians” will never be visited upon them if Israel harkens to God’s word. The initials of the ten plagues were inscribed on the rod that Moses used to unleash them (S of S R. 8). Rabbi Akiba taught that in fact the Egyptians were actually smitten with no less than 250 plagues (Haggadah for Passover).

In the time of Abraham, the pharaoh who took Sarah into his harem (Gen. 12:6) also suffered ten plagues, a foreshadowing of what would happen to Egypt during the Exodus (PdRE 26). SEE DISEASE; HEALING; PASSOVER.

Planets: (59159/Mazzalot). In the Bible, there are oblique hints of the idea that celestial objects can influence or affect humans (see especially Ps. 121). By the 6th BCE, the prophets are railing against Jews being involved in astral cults, but presumably this is a variation of ancient Near Eastern polytheism.


Planetary motion by E. M. Lilien

It was not until the rise of Greco-Roman influence, with its enthusiasm for astrology as we think of it today, that the “natural” influence of planets starts to be taken seriously in Jewish circles. Thus Jacob Asher regards the word MaZaL, “planet,” as an acronym for Mazria Zera L’minehu, “plants that reproduce according to their kind,” signifying that the celestial spheres govern the growing season (ha-Tur). The poem El Adon personifies the planets as entities that constantly praise God.

By the medieval period, Jewish astrologers were earnestly discussing how the planets in their motions hold sway over specific spheres of life in the sublunary world. Thus, one can read in Jewish texts like Sefer Razielhow Mars influences matters of blood, war, wounds, and iron, while Mercury influences matters pertaining to writing, arts, and learning. Presumably, knowing this allowed the practitioner to choose propitious times to engage in these matters. As the Middle Ages progressed, both Hermetic traditions and Arab theories of planetary emanations became increasingly accepted by Jewish thinkers.1 With the rise of modernity, however, Jews just as rapidly assimilated the new celestial-mechanical worldview, so the Jewish spiritual traditions related to the planets continues to spark interest only in the most traditional segments of Jewish society. SEE ASTROLOGY; BRONTOLOGY; MAGIC; MAZAL; ZODIAC.

1. Langerman, “Magic and Astrology,” vol. 3, 18-22.

Planets, Seven Angels of the: The angels who govern the heavenly bodies (visible to the naked eye) are Michael, Barakiel, Gabriel, Dodeniel, Chesidiel, Tzadikiel, and A’aniel.

Pleroma: “[Divine] fullness.” The totality of divine powers; the aggregate of divine attributes, intellects, virtues, and forces. Though the term is Greek and arises from Gnosticism, when applied to a Jewish context it refers to the divine order: the divine limbs, the seven heavens, the merkavah, the glory, the Throne of Glory, the footstool, the angels, the sefirot, the Partzufim, or any of the features of divinity Jews differentiate from or within the Godhead in their metaphysics. The God of Israel is regarded as one, but is, upon examination, rarely regarded as simple.1

1. Leibes, Studies in Jewish Myth and Messianism, 33-34.

Poison: In the popular gentile imagination of the Middle Ages, Jews were masters of the occult science of poisons (along with sorcery, healing, and alchemy). According to one anti-Jewish legend, Jewish physicians took a vow to poison every tenth Christian patient under their care. The reality that some Jews, as international traders, handled and sold exotic spices, herbs, drugs, and other substances no doubt contributed to this calumny.

A variation on this theme is that of well poisoning. According to this pernicious myth, in their satanic hatred of humanity, Jews would poison wells used by Christians. Popular hysterias about Jewish mass poisoning swept various regions of Europe. This accusation peaked in the 14th century, when such accusations occurred in many places, usually in the wake of a plague.1

Variations on the theme of poisoning continue to this day. In contemporary America, radical groups and conspiracy theorists claim that AIDS is a part of a Jewish plot to destroy the African-American community.2 Similar accusations have been made regarding the prevalence of drugs in minority communities. A popular belief in the Middle East is that Jews have put sterility drugs into chewing gum with the purpose of weakening the Arab world.3 SEEBLOOD LIBEL; PHARMACOPOEIA.

1. H. H. Ben-Sassoon, A History of the Jewish People (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 486-87. Also see H. H.Ben-Sassoon, ed., Trial and Achievement: Currents in Jewish History (Jersusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1976), 251-56.

2. D. Johnson, “Black-Jewish Hostility Rouses Leaders in Chicago to Action” New York Times, July 29, 1988, accessed 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/29/us/black-jewish-hostility-rouses-leaders-in-chicago-to-action.html.

3. B. Gellman, “Pop! Went the Tale of the Bubble Gum Spiked with Sex Hormones,” Washington Post, July 28, 1997, accessed 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/mideast/july/28/gum2807.htm.

Polemics, Magic: The accusation of Jews being malevolent magicians, sorcerers, or practitioners of witchcraft has been a polemic that continues to this very day.

The specific case of the Jews aside, the claim that an opponent is engaging in sorcery was already an established trope of religious polemics in antiquity: My wonders are religious miracles; your religion has mere magic (Ant. 2:284). The licit Roman civic cults said as much of the wondrous feats of the mystery sects. While the distinction between a miracle and magic seems clear to those who embrace a particular faith, defining what is a miracle vs. what is sorcery is more problematic than believers might think. Mesopotamian theurgists performed their rituals by the authority of the gods Enki (patron of magicians) and Asalluhi (patron of exorcists). Greeks believed magic powers were the gift of Asclepius or Apollo. Egyptian court sorcerers also derived their power from their gods. Christians regard the feats of Jesus to be a sign of his divinity.1 Endless ink has been expended on trying to make fine distinctions that would definitively distinguish the feats credited to Jesus from, say, those attested to Gautama Buddha.

The Church fathers often accused Jews of being wizards (Dialogue with Trypho 85:3; Sermons of Chysostomus; Council of Laodicea, Canons 35-37). In late antiquity and medieval Christendom, though itself a culture suffused with belief in its own miracles, wonder-working priests, and angelic interventions, this cliché polemic morphed into the far more egregious accusation that Jews were in legion with the devil, a belief that resulted in the persecution of whole Jewish communities and the death of thousands.2

Within the context of Judaism itself, there is no firm taxonomy on what makes a deed of power licit or illicit; all such judgments are impressionistic (“I know it when I see it” rule), and seem to change over time and cultural context. For example, the paradigmatic battle between Moses and the wizards of Egypt (Ex. 7:8-8:15) ends with the wizards admitting that Moses’s wonders were unparalleled, a claim readily accepted by Jews, but a Pagan reader in the ancient world would just as reasonably understood this story as a contest between theurgists and their patron deities, where one magician and his god proved more powerful than his adversary, but the powers themselves were of a kind. The distinction between Moses and the courtier sorcerers was likely perceived as one of scale, not of a different order. Both Moses and Solomon came to be perceived in the popular culture of Christendom as magicians.

Rabbinic and medieval sources were not immune to making the same kind of invidious comparison that they were subjected to by Christians and Muslim, arguing, for example, that Jesus was merely a magician whose feats derived from his time in Egypt (Matthew 2:13-19), the wellspring of witchcraft (Sanh. 104b; Kid. 49b; Toldot Yeshu). SEE MAGIC; PRAYER.

1. W. Miller, ed., Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000), 61.

2. Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews.

Pomegranate: SEE FRUIT.

Possession: Possession in Judaism comes in two types—demonic and ghostly, or pneumatic. There is much overlap in these categories, but each will be treated separately below:

A) Possession, Demonic: (59176/Ibbur Ra, also Nikhpeh; Achuz Sheid; K’fao Sheid). Seizure by evil spirits or demons is a phenomenon going back to biblical times.

While there are numerous references in the Bible to people being filled with divine spirit (Eldad and Medad) or the spirit of wisdom (Joshua), there is only one reference to evil spirit possession in the Hebrew Scriptures: Saul (1 Sam. 16:23, 18:12). This spirit could evidently be temporarily exorcised by means of music, but it never permanently left Saul. The apocryphal book of Tobit is devoted to a story of demonic haunting and exorcism(though it is not about a “possession” in the sense we are using here, of a living soul being bodily taken over).

In historical documents from outside Jewish tradition, there are several references to the phenomenon of demon possession among Jews. The Gospels make repeated mention of demon possession. Jesus reportedly exorcised several people, including Mary Magdalene (Mark 1:24). He himself was accused of being possessed by a demon (John 8:49). Even given the doubtful historical reliability of these stories, they at least suggest that belief in demon possession was part of the intellectual landscape of 1st-century Jewish Palestine.1

The Dead Sea Scrolls include several exorcism liturgies (11Q11). There are a few references to demonic possession in the Talmud and classical Midrash (Me. 17b; Num. R. 19.8; PdRK 1:74; Tanh. Chukkat 8). Interestingly, there is even a homily about how to judge the moral culpability of a person who is possessed (PdRE 12). incantation bowls and medieval texts found in the Cairo Geniza link various illnesses to demonic attack, indicating that at the level of popular Jewish culture, possession (at least in the form of invasive illness being seen as demonic) was taken seriously.2

There is a marked upsurge in accounts of possession starting in the 16th century, though these are mostly reports of pneumatic rather than demonic possession. Yet, incidents of possession by evil spirits are recorded in Jewish literature up to this day, almost exclusively in traditional Jewish circles.

Many symptoms are linked to possession, including compulsive deviant social, sexual, and religious behaviors. An outstanding feature of all forms of possession is xenoglossia, an alien voice speaking from within the possessed person. Numerous authorities have attempted to distinguish ibbur ra from mental illness, though many others, from Jesus in the 1st century up to people in the present, regarded insanity in and of itself to be a sign of demonic possession. SEE BONE; DEMONS; EXORCISM; POSSESSION, GHOSTLY

B) Possession, Ghostly: ( 59182/Achuz Dibbuk, also Ibbur ra). Belief that a spirit of the dead can possess the living is a surprisingly modern phenomenon in Judaism. While stories of demonic possession appear as early as biblical times, the first description of pneumatic possession does not appear until the first, in the writings of Josephus (Ant. 8:2, 8:5):

It [a special root] quickly drives away those called demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them. (Wars 7:6, 3)

The idea that a soul of the dead could possess the living really only revives in medieval Kabbalah . The Zohar, for example, offers accounts of the biblical figures Nadav and Avihu, who having died prematurely for an offense, temporarily possess their nephew Pinchas in order to affect a Tikkun, a rectification of their souls:

If there is even one organ in which the Holy One does not dwell, then he [the person] will be brought back into the world of reincarnation because of this organ, until he becomes perfected in his parts, that all of them may be perfect in the image of God. (T.Z.)

The Zohar limits examples of this phenomenon to the ancient past. And so far as I can tell, the first contemporary accounts of spirit possession do not appear until the 16th century.3 Eventually, many tracts documented incidents of dybbuk possession, such as Sefer ha-Hezyonot, Sha’ar Ruach ha-Kodeshim, Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, Emek ha-Melech, and Sefer Nishmat Hayyim:

The spirit which took possession of a young man was the spirit of one who, in his life, had sinned egregiously and that thereafter could find no peace. It had entered the youth’s body after having been forced to flee its previous abode, the body of a cow which was about to be slaughtered. (Ma’aseh Buch)

There are three related forms of possession described in the literature: beneficent possession by either an angelic being, usually termed a maggid (guide), or a righteous ancestor (ibbur),4 or malevolent possession by a poltergeist. An evil spirit is usually referred to as a ruach (spirit), dybbuk (clinging ghost), or tzeruf (changling or additional soul). This entry concentrates on the latter phenomenon.

In most of the accounts preserved in Judaism, souls of the dead seek to possess people either as a way of finding refuge from the punishments inflicted on them in the afterlife, or out of a desire for sexual gratification (a variation on the tradition of the incubus). According to Judah Petayah of Baghdad, many spirits find themselves adrift in the world of the living because of sex; their ghostly existence is a punishment for gross licentiousness while they were living (Minchat Yehudah). Lurianic theory developed a very elaborate model of how a soul may have its transmigrations impeded by unresolved sins. Such souls must find a material host to enter and any human is far preferable to an animal, plant, or inanimate object.

Based on recorded incidents, many victims of possession are (young) women, while almost all possessing spirits are male.5 An outstanding feature of all forms of possession is xenoglossia, an alien voice speaking from within the possessed person (Zera Kodesh).

While literary accounts of ghostly possession peak in the 17th to 18th centuries, periodic reports of spiritual possession continue across Jewish cultures up to this day, with the most recent publicly revealed incidents occurring (on videotape) in Israel.6

Jewish communities at different times employed different methods of exorcism, though the most consistent Jewish strategy appears to be simply to talk the spirit to death.7 SEE IBBUR; MEDIUM.

1. Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist.

2. Bar-Ilan, “Exorcism by Rabbis,” 1-14; Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism, 73-98.

3. J. H. Chajes, “Judgments Sweetened: Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern Jewish Culture,” Journal of Early Modern History 1, no. 2 (1997): 124-69.

4. Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism, 101-24.

5. Ibid., 41-72.

6. M. Shaviv, “Dybbuk Exorcism, Live in Israel,” The Jewish Chronicle (Jan. 7, 2010), accessed 2015, http://www.thejc.com/blogpost/dybbuk-exorcism-live-israel.

7. Patai, “Exorcism and Xenoglossia Among the Safed Mystics.”

Potah: (59192). “Fool.” The angel (or demon ) of forgetfulness frequently mentioned in medieval texts. He is the nemesis of the Sar ha-Torah (Machzor Vitry, 115-16; Havdalah de Rabbi Akiva; Sefer Assufot).

Prayer: (59190/Tefillah, also Bakash; Berachah). While the Torah devotes whole chapters and almost 200 mitzvot to sacrificial worship, there is no divine commandment that explicitly directs the Children of Israel to worship via prayer (verbal offerings) either spontaneously or at appointed times, either privately or communally. RaMBaM acknowledges as much in his Mishnah Torah Hilchot Tefillah 1.1, but goes on to build on inferential arguments for the importance of prayer. Germaine to this encyclopedia, however, is the question of what, if anything, distinguishes prayer from incantation. This is a topic of ongoing debate among academics. Since Sir James George Fraser’s taxonomy first appeared in The Golden Bough in 1922, popular convention regards prayer to be a supplication, an appeal for favor from a deity, knowing that the god is free to ignore the plea. By contrast, an incantation is both mechanistic and coercive; if the rite is performed correctly, the deity is compelled to fulfill the wish of the initiate. The scholar Joseph Geiger rejected this distinction entirely:

Magic, as a definite and consistent category of human behavior simply does not exist … The beliefs and rituals of “the others” are that which is always defined as “magic,” superstition … The sentence “So-and-so is/was a witch” tells us nothing about so-and-so’s beliefs and actions. The only information we are sure of, that which can be drawn from the statement, is the relationship of the speaker to the person he speaks of and their mutual social relationship: the person spoken of is seen by the speaker as powerful, marginal, and dangerous.1

But even if one accepts Fraser’s distinction, prayer in Judaism is regarded to be very powerful in affecting all kinds of change, including effectuating the miraculous, including in the Pleroma itself (B.B. 116a; ShB 50).

The function of prayer has varied and evolved, depending on the time and Jewish community:

✵ Prayer as appeal for divine presence or intervention (1 Sam. 1; Ben Porat Yosef, 21a).

✵ Prayer as self-revelation: The act of prayer is a method toward self-knowledge and transformative, rather than changing either God or the world (Ps. 69:14; Tur, Orach Chayyim, 98; M. T. Tefillah 1.1; Guide 3:51).

✵ Prayer as theurgy: Prayer is not “heard” by an actively listening, personal God, but serves as a kind of key to activate and draw down necessary divine processes (Ps. 68:19; Likkutai Maharil, 3b; Masekhet Avot 3a). This is the dominant, though not exclusive, kabbalistic understanding of the function of prayer.

Many esoteric movements in Judaism have believed in and taught sodot ha-tefillah, that Jewish liturgy has an esoteric dimension and secret power that can only be tapped by those with the occult knowledge and right kavanah.2 The Circle of the Unique Cherub formulated an esoteric rationale for prayer (Pesak ha-Yirah). For another example, the German Pietist used to draw out the prayers recited for the conclusion of the Sabbath for the benefit of the dead, because it was believed that the souls being punished in Gehenna were released for the duration of the Sabbath.3 Medievals also believed that some destructive angels had names ending in the letter payh (the “p” or “f” sound) and that reciting a prayer text that contained no words with final payhs, such as the Yotzer Or prayer, would protect against such demons .

Over time, the function of prayer also evolved in Jewish esoteric thought. The Zohar, for example, treats prayer not so much as a means for dialogue with the divine, but rather as a ritual leading to devekut, union with God. It even characterizes the process of giving the soul over to God in prayer as a kind of (temporary) Death (Zohar II:201a, 213b; III:21a-b). And, as with almost all aspects of the kabbalistic approach to ritual, prayer foremost is seen as a mechanism for activating world-sustaining and world-repairing processes within the Pleroma. SEE MAGIC.

1. Y. Harari, Early Jewish Magic: Research, Method and Sources (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 2010), 56.

2. Idel, Hasidism, 157-58.

3. Kanarfogel, Peering through the Lattices, 143. Also see Dan, “The Emergence of Mystical Prayer,” in Studies in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Association for Jewish Studies, 1982), 85-120.

Prayer of Jacob: A magical text of antiquity, it describes how the Patriarch Jacob invokes God for wisdom and divine powers. There are a number of pagan themes in the text, so it is a matter of controversy whether the author was a Jewish syncretist or a pagan.1

1. Davila, “Ancient Magic (The Prayer of Jacob).”

Preida, Rabbi: Talmudic Sage (ca. 4th century). He was rewarded with a life span of four hundred years because of his devotion to teaching Torah. His merit was such that because of him, his entire generation was vouchsafed eternity in Eden (Eruv. 54b; Sefer Yuhasin).

Priesthood and Priest: (59201/Kehunah; ˆhwk/Kohan). The priests of ancient Israel were in charge of the sacrificial cult in the Temple and as such were spiritual conduits between Israel and God. They also functioned as diviners, diagnosticians, and possibly as healers.

The priesthood was a hereditary affair, all priests being descendants of the clan of Aaron. They also possessed no land of their own, but depended on the Temple donations and sacrifices for their upkeep.

In order for the priests to function within the sacred grounds of the Temple without risk of transgressing or polluting the divine space, they were governed by an elaborate set of physical requirements, dress codes, and purityrules. In time, the clothing items and purity practices used by the priests in preparation for approaching the holy became archetypes that would later evolve into the kind of purification rites used by subsequent generations of mystics and magicians seeking to access divine power.1

The High Priest controlled the Urim and Thummim, by which he could address questions to God of national import. SEE ALTAR; PINCHAS; SACRIFICE; TABERNACLE.

1. Metzger and Coogan, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 608-11.


The Priestly Blessing by E. M. Lilien

Priestly Blessing: (592141/Birkat Cohanim). A three-fold blessing, “May YHVH bless you and guard you/May YHVH cause His countenance to shine upon you and be gracious to you/May YHVH lift up His countenance toward you and grant you peace,” said by the priest over the whole Jewish people at the times of festival gatherings. The ritual is performed with the hands of the priest held “Vulcan style,” with the thumb and fingers forming three prongs, the shape of a “shin.”

The Priestly Benediction includes characteristics of an incantation, being made up of progressive verses of three, five, and seven words. It invokes God’s power to protect the person and grant material prosperity and enlightenment. Each line contains the Tetragrammaton. From its words, mystics have uncovered the esoteric twelve-part and twenty-two letter names of God. It can counteract bad omens and dreams.

Priluka, Isaac: Rabbi and exorcist (Ukrainian, ca. 19th century).

Prince of Fire: SEE PRINCES OF FEAR.

Prince of the Congregation: A messianic moniker that appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Prince is the war leader of Israel in the great eschatological battle against evil (CD VII 19-20; 4Q161; 4Q285).

Prince of the Sea: (592321/Sar Yam or Sar shel Yam). Possibly either an angel or a demon , the Sar Yam is at times identified with Leviathan or Rahav (Ex. R. 34:1; B.B. 74b). Some Jews in Talmudic times evidently sought to placate this numinous entity by throwing sacrifices into water, a practice denounced by the Sages, who could exercise some authority over the Prince (Chul. 41b; J. Sanh. 13a-d).

Prince of the World: ( 59216/Sar Olam; Sar ha-Olam). An angelic title, sometimes applied to Metatron, sometimes to Michael (Yev. 16b; Chul. 60a). This is the angel that pleads for the coming of the Messiah (Sanh. 94a; Gen. R.33.7). In Kabbalah , he isMalchut , the lowest sefirah (T.Z. I:181b).

Princes of Envy and Enmity: An array of demons , each the commander of a demon legion, mentioned in Treatise on the Left Emanation.

Princes of Fear: ( 59218). These punishing angels will descend on anyone who misuses the power of divine names and/or theurgic rituals. They are mentioned in Hechalot texts and in the stories of Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov.

Privy Demon: (59220/Sheid Beit ha-Kissei). Tractate Berachot tells us demons , though a constant threat, like to lurk in places of impurity (6a-b). Thus the angels that normally protect a person,

For He will order his angels to guard you wherever you go. (Ps. 91:11)

are weakened. Therefore it’s considered impolite to force the angels to escort you to the restroom:

Upon entering a toilet, a person should recite: Honor yourselves, honored ones, holy ones who serve Above. Give honor to the God of Israel, leave me alone until I enter and fulfill my desire, and then I will return to you. (Ber. 60a)

This gesture of respect, however, makes one vulnerable to a particular demon that likes toilets and spreads plagues to mankind (Zohar III:76b). This is the sheid Beit ha-kisei, the djinn of the privy. In the same way one becomes vulnerable to spirits while at the toilet, one also is subject to assault by witches or the evil eye:

Palpate yourself before sitting, but do not sit and palpate, for if one sits and then palpates, should witchcraft be used against him, even as far away as Aspamia one will not be immune from it. And if he forgets and does sit and then palpates, what is his remedy? When he rises he should say thus: Not for me, not for me; not for takhtim, nor takhtim [literally, “bottoms”]; not for these nor any part of these; neither the sorceries of sorcerers nor the sorceries of sorceresses! (Ber. 62a)

The concern here is, quite literally, with having created an opening to attack. In other places in the Talmud, we learn that unclean spirits enter through the orifices of the Body like the mouth and eyes. Apparently, so too the anus. That was the formula against witchcraft, this is phrase against demons:

For [defeating] a sheid of the privy one should say thus: “On the head of a lion and on the snout of a lioness did we find the demon Bar Shirika Panda; with a bed of leeks I hurled him down, [and] with the jawbone of an ass I smote him.” (Shab. 67a)

But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If spells are good, amulets are even better:

Rabbah bar bar Hannah said: We used to walk behind R’ Yochanan,

And when he needed to go to the bathroom—

When he was carrying a book of Midrash he’d give it to us.

But when he was carrying tefillin, he wouldn’t give them to us.

He would say: “Since the Rabbis permit us [to take tefillin into a privy],

They will guard me [against spirits]!” (Ber. 23a-b)

In the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 3.3, another preventative is prescribed: If one wishes to palpate the rectum with a pebble or a piece of wood in order to open up the hole, he should do so prior to sitting but not after sitting in order to thwart sorcery. SEE TOILET; UNCLEAN SPIRITS OR IMPURE SPIRITS.

Prophecy and Prophets: (59238/Nevuah). Unlike the Eastern Semites, who favored omen reading and impetrated divination, among many Western Semitic peoples (including the Israelites) the preferred source of augury and revelation was the intuitive human oracle. So unlike the baru diviners of Mesopotamia, who were essentially technicians and observers, the prophets of the West were individuals with mediumistic, mystical, and occult predispositions.1


The divine call by E. M. Lilien

The most common method of inducing a vision among early Semitic prophets appears to have been achieving a state of ecstasy by means of music, dance, or even self-mutilation (1 Sam. 10, 19; 1 Kings 18).

While biblical prophecy clearly has its roots in these Semitic practices, the nature of prophecy seems to have evolved in the biblical period.2 Early in Israelite history, there was a distinction between a prophet (navi) and a seer (roeh or chozeh), the distinction being that the prophet was a shaman like ecstatic who communed with divine forces while in a trance, while the seer relied on dreams and visions in the darkness (1 Sam. 9:1-10:6). This distinction doesn’t apply to the case of Moses, who appears to have his prophetic experiences without being in a mind-altering state.

In later Israelite culture, this distinction vanishes and the terms are used interchangeably (2 Sam. 14:11; Isa. 29:10), though the classical prophets continue to rail against various forms of “false prophecy,” among which they include using wine to induce drunken dreams visions (Isa. 28), ecstatic trances (Zech. 13), consulting spirits, or experiencing automatic speech (Isa. 8).

According to the Sages, there are ten types of prophets: envoys, men of faith, men of God, servants, seers, messengers, angels, visionaries, sentinels, and prophets. Prophecy comes in ten forms: parable, metaphor, riddle, speech, saying, dream, command, pronouncement, prophecy, and vision (Mishnat R. Eliezer 6; AdRN 34; Gen. R. 44:6). By tradition, there were forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses in Israel (Shab. 104a). All the prophets perceived the divine only through the medium of the speculum, filters that shielded them from the reality-annulling power of pure spirit (Lev. R. 1:14; Mishnat R. Eliezer 6). Later mysticism equated these speculi with the sefirot. Most prophets had to view the divine reality through the filter of up to nine specula. Only Moses experienced prophetic visions through the special clarity of just a single speculum (Yev. 49b).

The mechanism of prophecy among the classical prophets is much debated, and the prophets themselves do not give detailed accounts of how their prophetic experiences unfold.3 Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah describe vivid visions full of light and symbols. Zechariah described his visions as like a dream, and it has been suggested that Isaiah’s vision in the Temple (Isa. 6) was the result of incubation, though there is no explicit testimony to this in the text itself. Moreover, elsewhere in the book of Isaiah, the practice of incubation is condemned (8:19-22, 19:3). Ezekiel is physically bowled over by the Spirit of God, which then enters him (Ezek. 1-2). While it has been popular to argue that all prophets experienced their revelations in a state of ecstasy, the evidence for this is spotty. In the accounts of Moses, Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah, evidence of ecstasy is utterly absent. It is also not at all clear that the classical prophets were “taken over” or that they simply “channeled” a divine voice (enthusiasm), as there are ample examples of the prophets conversing with God, indicating they retained their own consciousness and their own will during the prophetic experience. The Talmud claims the spirit of prophecy only descends upon one who is in a state of joy; anger causes prophecy to depart (Pes. 117a; Shab. 30b).

According to some, true prophecy can only happen in the Land of , though there were a few exceptions which only occurred because of the purifying presence of water (MdRI Bo, Pisha 1). Still, there are enough exceptions to this rule found in Scripture that this claim is hard to sustain. This is especially the case because the tradition teaches that the gentile nations were also sent prophets, seven in total—Job, Jethro, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, and Balaam—with Balaam, son of Beor, being the greatest (B.B. 15b; Num. R. 14:20). Gradually, as the Shekhinah came to reside among Israel, the spirit of prophecy disappeared among the nations (Lev. R. 1:12). In a related vein, the Zoharsuggests circumcision is a prerequisite to prophecy (I:89a), even though this claim flies in the face of the biblical and rabbinic traditions of both female and gentile prophets. The Kabbalists also teach that prophecy flows from the feminine side of the Godhead.4

After the Babylonian exile, the institution of prophecy fades from Israel, perhaps because it reverted to the older ecstatic mode and Jews of the time found such prophecies unreliable (Zech. 13). From about 300 BCE on, the Bible itself, supplemented by omens, becomes the preferred source of divine revelation. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were the last of the recognized prophets. Prophecy, it is said, had now been given over to children and the insane (Sanh. 11a; B.B. 12a-b).

The Talmudic Sages insisted God’s will is only made known through a Bat Kol or a visitation by Elijah. Yet numerous mystics have believed attenuated forms of prophecy can be experienced through ecstatic mystical practices (Sha’arei ha-Kedushah), and a number of Kabbalists and Chasidic masters have been given the title “prophet” or “seer,” though any claim to true prophecy made in postbiblical Judaism is highly controversial and generally dismissed by all but a few true believers.5 Certainly no one since the 3rd BCE has been universally recognized in Israel as a prophet. Prophecy will truly return to Israel with the final appearance of Elijah and the advent of the Messianic age. SEE DIVINATION; HOLY SPIRIT.

1. A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 206-28.

2. B. J. Bamberger, “The Changing Image of the Prophet in Jewish Thought,” The 1966 Goldenson Lecture, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.

3. A. J. Heschel, The Prophets (Philadephia, PA: JPS, 1962), 324-425.

4. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines, 70-317, 343-44.

5. A. J. Heschel, Prophetic Inspiration After the Prophets (New York, KTAV, 1985). Also see Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, 296.

Protocols of the Elders of Zion: An anti-Semitic tract that purports to reveal a secret cabal of Jewish elders striving for world domination. This rambling fabrication of the Czarist Russian secret police has some quaint aspects. For example, it reviles Jews for undermining aristocracy, promoting liberal ideas, and spreading democracy as a means to take world control.

Providence: SEE FATE; FREE WILL.

Psalms: (59256). The 150 poems/hymns, ascribed to the authorship of David, which make up the biblical book of Psalms. There are also several psalms that appear in other books of the Bible, most notably the books of Samuel and Jonah. Noncanonical psalms have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls collection (11Q11; 4Q435-38).

The use of the biblical psalms for Prophecy, divination, protection, and even magical purposes is very ancient. The earliest evidence of this appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls and continues to this day. In the MiddleAges, an anonymous author wrote Shimmush Tehillim (“Practical Psalms”), a workbook for using various psalms in amulets, rituals of protection, and theurgy.

There is a similar list of magical applications found in a Judeo-Arabic translation of the Psalms by Ezekiel Shemtov David. Examples of psalms that can be used for practical benefit include:

Psalm 1 can help counteract a potential miscarriage.

Psalm 9 can be used for healing an ailing child.

Psalm 16 and 19 are most useful in uncovering a thief. The psalms are recited as part of a divining ritual in which the names of the suspects are written in clay and then dissolved with living water.


Psalm 16 on an amulet

In a Cairo Geniza fragment, Psalm 23 is included in a ritual for asking dream questions of the angel Michael.

Psalm 29 is recited over a body of water as part of a ritual to make revelations appear in the reflecting surface (Pes. 112a; Sefer Tagi; Perush ha-Merkavah).

Psalm 31 is used to combat the evil eye.

Psalm 49 is recited to reduce a fever.

Psalm 67, which consists of precisely forty-nine words, is read during the forty-nine days of the omer. Done with the proper kavanah, it protects one against imprisonment (Abraham Galante).

Psalm 91, based on the language of verses 7 and 10, is identified by the Talmud as “a song of afflictions” (Shev. 15b) and is without a doubt the most frequently cited psalm for defense against illness and spiritual attacks.

Psalm 109, especially verse 6, is useful in performing exorcism when recited in reverse.

Psalm 119, the longest psalm, and one constructed on an acrostic structure, has protective uses for every letter-verse.

Psalm 121 is an excellent tool for protecting against threats that come in the night.

The Chasidic master Yehiel Meir Lipschitz, the Tehillim Yid (“Psalm Jew”) believed that any Jew with troubles who came to him could be saved from any hardship, given appropriate psalms to recite. SEE AMULET; APOCRYPHA; BIBLE;BIBLIOMANCY; DEAD SEA SCROLLS.

Psalms of Exorcism: A text consisting of five columns, perhaps four psalms (the canonical Psalm 91 and three noncanonical psalms, designated 11Q11) found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The material likely constituted a single liturgy intended to be used in exorcising disease-causing demon . The first column is in a very poor state and only fragments of phrases are readable. The remaining columns survived in enough readable condition to get a sense of the structure. The psalms are to be recited over the victim as he responds “amen” and “selah” to their adjurations.

Pseudepigrapha: Religious literature, usually containing some form of divine revelation, which is (falsely) credited to a worthy figure of antiquity. In Israelite religion, before the creation of the biblical canon, people received their divine communications primarily through the phenomenon of living oracles—prophets. In Early Judaism, as canonized written accounts of those prophetic oracles (Scriptures) came to increasingly be regarded as the only reliable source of God’s will, those who continued to experience revelatory moments and wanted to share these new oracles found it more and more difficult to be taken seriously. Because of this, the phenomenon of ascribing such insights to ancient authorities arose.1

Deuteronomy, a book which purports to be from the hand of Moses, yet was not known of until centuries after Moses, may be the oldest example of pseudepigrapha in Judaism.2 Other biblical books suspected of being pseudepigraphic include Daniel and Ecclesiastes.

The vast majority of such writing, however, arose during the Greco-Roman period, once the biblical canon was closed. The number of works ascribed to biblical figures, both important and peripheral, multiplied exponentially. They include such works as the Apocalypse of Isaiah, the Testament of Levi, and, of course, the many Enochean books. Magical books, too, can achieve a greater aura of authority by claiming ancient authorship, as exemplified by works like the Testament of Solomon, Sefer ha-Razim, the Eighth Book of Moses, and Sword Of Moses..

Mystics, too, will use this strategy to reach a wider audience with their novel and radical metaphysics. The Bahir and the Zohar, for example, both claim to be works of greater antiquity than they in fact are.3

1. Metzger and Coogan, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 629-31.

2. J. Tigay, The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy (Philadelphia, PA: JPS, 1996), xix-xxvi.

3. Dan, The ‘Unique Cherub’ Circle, 1-16.

Pseudo-Sa’adia: A mystical-magical commentary on Sefer Yetzirah that is wrongly attributed to Sa’adia Gaon, the 10th-century Babylonian polymath. It is instead the composition coming out of a group of little-known medieval mystics, possibly the Circle of the Unique Cherub. It is most notable for providing further details on the golem traditions.1

1. Dan, The ‘Unique Cherub’ Circle, 125-41.

Pulsa D’nura: (59267). “Lashes of Fire.” A divine punishment and curse. The Talmud first mentions “lashes of fire” in relation to the four Sages who entered PaRDeS, when it relates how the angel Metatron was subjected to sixty pulsei de-nura for impertinence:

Of him [Elisha ben Abuyah, a mystic turned heretic] Scripture says: Suffer not thy mouth to bring thy flesh into guilt. What does it refer to?—He [Elisha, while on an ecstatic journey through the heavenly palaces] saw that permission was granted to Metatron to sit and write down the merits of Israel. Said he: It is taught as a tradition that on high there is no sitting and no emulation, and no back, and no weariness. Perhaps—God forfend!—there are two divinities! [Thereupon] they [the angels of discipline] led Metatron forth, and punished him with sixty fiery lashes, saying to him: Why didst thou not rise before him when thou didst see him? (Chag. 15a)

These lashes were a supernal punishment on a spirit. Sefer Zohar has the most information on the lashes. It, too, links the phenomenon to Metatron, for it describes pulsei de-nura as a harsh yet generative and protective attribute of the Shekhinah:

A single Youth [i.e., Metatron], extending from one end of the world to the other, emerges from between her legs with sixty strokes of fire, decked in colors [the rainbow?]. This one is empowered over those below in Her four directions. [I:223b]

It has been taught: Radiance of those sixty surrounding her [Shekhinah] is etched on the Youth, and we call these “sixty lashes of fire,” in which he is clothed in the aspect of the Shekhinah, blazing judgment, as it is written … sixty warriors surrounding her. (S of S 3:7) (II:66b-67a)

The lashes also appear on plane of human action, again associated with the Shekhinah:

As for this: The Angel of Elohim [who was going before the camp of Israel] … on one side she [Shekhinah, the pillar of cloud] was arrayed in crowns of Chesed [love] … On the second side, she was arrayed in lances of Gevurah [power], in sixty lashes of fire. [ II:51b]

The pulsa de-nura is a celestial-angelic force/process/attribute related to Metatron, one that births, protects, and maintains discipline among the supernal denizens. In some readings it seems to be akin to the concept of yesurim shel ahavah [divine chastisements of love] and may even flow down to the human domain in the form of strict justice.

In modern times the pulsa de-nura has resurfaced as a title for a curse, though the Israeli scholar, Zion Zohar, concludes that a “ritual of pulsa de-nura” has no basis in the classical sources, but seems rather to be a borrowed term applied to a modern contrivance.1

1. Z. Zohar, “Pulsa De-Nura: The Innovation of Modern Magic and Ritual,” Modern Judaism 27:1 (2007).

Pulse: The arterial pulse of the wrist has long been held to reveal the spiritual condition of a person. Tikkunei ha-Zohar identifies ten pulse patterns and their spiritual implications. Chayyim Vital describes in detail how to use a pulse in performing an exorcism:1

1. Chajes, Between Worlds, 75-76, 213 n. 71.

Punishing Angels: In keeping with Jewish monotheism, the spirits that oversee Gehenna are rarely characterized as demons. Rather, Jewish texts assume that hell, like heaven, is completely under divine control. This being the case, the numinous creatures that operate Gehenna are in fact angels. These angels execute a near infinite variety of horrific punishments upon the souls of the wayward. These include being hurled across the universe, being flogged with rods of burning coals, flaying, dismemberment, and a host of other vividly unpleasant experiences. Different angels oversee the punishment of different classes of people, with the worst being reserved for the few wholly unredeemable wicked souls (MG; SGE).

Purity or Purification: (59279). While ritual purification is a regular feature of traditional Jewish observance, purity also plays a prominent role in Jewish mysticism and magic. Some sort of purification is usually required before performing these acts: a mystical ascension, making an amulets, or summoning. Most specifications of magical purification are modeled on the purification rites required of the Israelites before they received the Torah at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19) and on the priestly purity system of the ancient Temple. Thus, in the Sword Of Moses., a Hebrew manual for angel summoning, we read:

If you wish to use this Sword … the man who decides to use it must first free himself three days earlier from accidental pollution and from everything unclean, eat and drink [but] once every evening, and must eat the bread from a pure man or wash his hands first in salt and drink only water … on the first day when you withdraw [from potential pollutants] bathe [in a mikvah] once and no more, pray three times daily, and after each prayer recite this blessing …

The most common elements of such purification instructions are: immersion in a mikvah (sometimes with accompanying incantations and reciting secret names of God) or a river (both Jacob and Ezekiel had encounters with God at a riverside), fasting, prayer, abstaining from sex, and withdrawal from normal activities and human contact. Having a nocturnal emission will require one to begin the period of purification over again. Fasting or reducing the kinds of foods one eats also makes it easier to move in divine realms and/or deal with divine beings, for it makes you less human and more angelic (angels don’t eat).1 In Hechalot Rabbati, it is recommended that one also abstain from smelly food because angels can distinguish a human in their midst by the smell.2

Part of purification also involves donning clean clothes. When one is purifying oneself in preparation of performing a theurgic ritual, the clothing worn is usually required to be white (Hechalot Rabbati). SEE PRIESTHOOD AND PRIEST; TAHARAH.

1. Lesses, Ritual Practices to Gain Power (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 119-60.

2. M. Swartz, “The Book of the Great Name,” 340-47.

Purple: SEE COLOR.

Psychopomp: Many spiritual traditions have an entity, a spirit, deity, angel, or righteous ancestor, whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife. This creature is known as a psychopomp, from the Greek, meaning the “guide of souls.” The role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage. In Greek mythology, this is usually Hermes. In Egyptian myth, Anubis. In Christianity, it is St. Peter.

Judaism has this concept also. But in keeping with the doctrinal chaos that reigns in other aspects of Judaism, there is no firm agreement on the identity of the psychopomp. There is Lailah, the angel of conception who not only brings souls into this world, but then returns to them at the end of life. When the soul recognizes the angel, then Lailah takes it on to the next stage of its journey:

When a man’s time to die comes, the same angel [who brought him into the world] appears to him and asks, “Do you recognize me?” The man answers “Yes …” (Tanh. Pekudei 3)

Another tradition assigns the role to Abraham. The beloved ancestor awaits wayfaring souls, though not in the place you would expect:

As he sat in the tent door in the heat (Gen. 18:2) … Rav Levi said, in the World to Come, Abraham will sit at the entrance of Gehenna and permit no circumcised child of Israel to descend there … (Gen. R. 48:8)

Finally, there is Elijah. Some traditions place Elijah at the scene of the resurrection of the dead. But he also greets the souls of those entering their everlasting reward:

The good way has two byways, one of righteousness, the other of love, and Elijah, may he be remembered for good, is placed exactly between these two ways. When a man comes to enter, Elijah, may he be remembered for good, cries aloud concerning him, saying, Open you gates, that the righteous nation which keeps truth may enter it … (Isa. 24:2) (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 15)