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The Hebrew Alphabet

"Twenty-two foundation letters: He ordained them, He hewed them, He combined them, He weighed them, He interchanged them. And He created with them the whole creation and everything to be created in the future."
Sefer Yetsirah ("Book of Formation")

The Western Mystery Tradition combines many strands of thought and symbolism, but the more esoteric aspects of the Judaic traditions are something of a cornerstone. Study of the Kabbalah, even from a modern perspective, really requires some knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet and preferably of Hebrew itself. Those interested in Ceremonial Magic need to be able to interpret, transcribe and pronounce simple Hebrew phrases. Students of the Tarot will find their understanding of the Major Arcana and the symbolism of esoteric decks enhanced by familiarity with the Hebrew letters. Of course, any exploration of the Bible, in particular the Old Testament, is strengthened by an appreciation of Hebrew, and, by virtue of Esoteric Correspondence, studies in other fields such as astrology benefit as well.

When reading or writing Hebrew, it is important to remember that it is written from right to left. Words are generally written without vowels, though modern Hebrew does employ a system of diacritic marks to specify vowel-sounds. The esoteric student is usually more concerned with ancient Hebrew.

The following table shows the standard form of each of the 22 Hebrew letters in order, along with a guide to their pronunciation, their basic meanings, and their English transliterations. Each letter also has a numerical equivalent, which is shown in the table. Certain letters have two values, depending on whether the letter is used within or at the end of a word. See the footnote below for further discussion of this and the threefold division of the alphabet.

Hebrew Letter Pronunciation Meaning Value Transliteration
Aleph Aleph "ahlehf" Ox, primal energy 1 A
Beth Beth "beht" House or enclosure 2 B
Gimel Gimel "gheemehl" Camel or carrier 3 G, J
Daleth Daleth "dahleht" Door or womb 4 D
Heh Heh "heh" Window 5 H, E
Vav Vav "vahv" Nail or hook 6 V, W, U
Zayin Zayin "zahyeen" Sword 7 Z
Cheth Cheth "h'eht" Field or fence 8 Ch
Teth Teth "teht" Serpent 9 T
Yod Yod "yohd" Open hand 10 Y, I
Kaph Kaph "kaf" Closed or grasping hand 20, 500 as final K
Lamed Lamed "lahmehd" Ox-goad or whip 30 L
Mem Mem "mem" Water 40, 600 as final M
Nun Nun "noon" Fish 50, 700 as final N
Samekh Samekh "sahmehh" Prop or support 60 S
Ayin Ayin "a'hyeen" Eye 70 O
Peh Peh "peh" Mouth 80, 800 as final P, F
Tzaddi Tzaddi "tsahdee" Fishhook 90, 900 as final Tz, X
Qoph Qoph "qoof" Back of head 100 Q
Resh Resh "rehsh" Face or head 200 R
Shin Shin "sheen" Tooth 300 Sh
Tav Tav "tahv" Cross or sign 400 Th

Those letters that have two numerical values take different forms depending on whether or not the letter appears as the final letter in a word. When one of these letters ends a word, it is drawn slightly differently (these "final" forms are not shown in the table) and has "sofit" (pronounced "sohfeet") added to its name. For example, mem has a value of 40 if it is placed before the end of a word, but has a value of 600 and is called mem sofit if it is the final letter of a word.

One final point of note is the division of the Hebrew alphabet into three groups: the three Mother Letters, the seven Double Letters (so called because they have both hard and soft pronunciations) and the twelve Simple Letters. These are, in order:

aleph mem shin
beth gimel daleth kaph peh resh tav
heh vau zayin cheth teth yod lamed nun samekh ayin tzaddi qoph