The word Merkaba or Merkava (Literally translated from Hebrew as Chariot of Light) is used in the Bible (Ezekiel 1:4-26) to refer to the throne-chariot of God, the four-wheeled vehicle driven by four Cherubim, each of which has four wings and four faces (of a man, lion, ox, and eagle). In medieval Judaism, the beginning of the book of Ezekiel was regarded as the most mystical passage in the Bible, and its study was discouraged, except by mature individuals with an extensive grounding in the study of traditional Jewish texts. Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than seven million people in Israel and Jewish communities around the world. In the terminology used to discuss the grammar of the Semitic languages, a triliteral is a root containing a sequence of three consonants. Ezekiel the Prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures is depicted on a 1510 Sistine Chapel fresco by Michelangelo.
Jewish biblical commentaries emphasize that the imagery of the Merkaba is not meant to be taken literally; rather the chariot and its accompanying angels are analogies for the various ways that God reveals Himself in this world. Maimonides in his 13 principles of faith emphasise that God is not limited to any particular form, as this prophesy might seem to imply. Chassidic philosophy and Kaballah explain at length what each aspect of this vision represents in this world, and how they in no way imply that God is made up of these forms. The danger of understanding these passages as literal descriptions of God's image likely accounts for the opposition among Torah scholars towards learning this topic without the proper initiation. Jews customarily read the Biblical passages concerning the Merkaba in their synagogues every year on the holiday of Shavuot.
According to the verses in Ezekiel and its attendant commentaries, the analogy of the Mekaba image consists of a chariot made of many angels being driven by the "Likeness of a Man." Four angels form the basic structure of the chariot. These angels are called the "Chayot" or "Hayyoth" חיות (lit. animals). The bodies of the "Chayot" are like that of a human being, but each of them had four faces, corresponding to the four directions the chariot can go (north, east south and west). The faces are that of a man, a lion, an ox (later changed to a child or cherub) and an eagle. Since there are four angels and each has four faces, there are a total of 16 faces. Each Chayot angel also has four wings. Two of these wings spread across the length of the chariot and connected with the wings of the angel on the other side. This created a sort of 'box' of wings that formed the perimeter of the chariot. With the remaining two wings, each angel covered its own body. Below, but not attatched to the feet of the "Chayot" angels are other angels that are shaped like wheels. These wheel angels, which are described as "a wheel inside of a wheel", are called "Ophannim" אופנים (lit. wheels, cycles or ways). These wheels are not directly under the chariot, but are nearby and along its perimeter much like the wheels of a car. The angel with the face of the man is always on the east side and looks up at the "Likeness of a Man" that drives the chariot. The "Likeness of a Man" sits on a throne made of sapphire. The Hayyoth are a class of Merkabah, or Jewish Mystical Angels, on the same level as the Christian cherubim, and residing in the seventh heaven. ...
The Bible later makes mention of a third type of angel found in the Merkaba called "Seraphim" (lit. burning) angels. These angels appear like flashes of fire continuously ascending and descending. These "Seraphim" angels functioned somewhat like pistons in that they powered the movement of the chariot. In the hierarchy of these angels, "Seraphim" are the highest, that is, closest to God, followed by the "Chayot", which are followed by the "Ophannim". The chariot is in a constant state of motion, and the energy behind this movement runs according to this hierarchy. The movement of the "Ofanim" is controlled by the "Chayot" while the movement of the "Chayot" is controlled by the "Serafim". The movement of all the angels of the chariot are controlled by the "Likeness of a Man" on the Throne.
Chassidic philosophy explains that Merkaba is a multi-layered analogy that offers insight into the nature of man, the ecosystem, the world, and teaches us how to become better people.
The four Chayot angels represent the basic archetypes that God used to create the current nature of the world. Offanim which means ways, are the ways these archetypes combine to create actual entities that exist in practicality. For instance, in the basic elements of the world, the lion represents fire, the ox earth, the eagle wind, and the man water. However, in practice, everything in the world is some combination of all four, and the particular combination of each element that exist in each thing are its particular Ofannim or ways.
The Man on the throne represents God who is controlling everything that goes on in the world, and how all of the archetypes He set up should interact. The Man on the throne however, can only drive when the four angels connect their wings. This means that God will not be revealed to us by us looking at all four elements (for instance) as separate and independent entities. However when one looks at the way that earth, wind, fire and water (for instance) which all oppose each other are able to work together and coexist in complete harmony in the world, this shows that there is really a higher power (God) telling these elements how to act.
This very lesson carries over to explain how the four basic groups of animals and the four basic archetypal philosophies and personalities reveal a higher, godly source when one is able to read between the lines and see how these opposing forces can and do interact in harmony. A person should strive to be like a Merkaba, that is to say, he should realize all the different qualities, talents and inclinations he has (his angels). They may seem to contradict, but when one directs his life to a higher goal such as doing God's will (the man on the chair driving the chariot) he will see how they all can work together and even complement each other. Ultimately, we should strive to realize how all of the forces in the world, though they may seem to conflict can unite when one knows how to use them all to fulfil a higher purpose, namely to serve God.
New Age Description
In modern esoteric teachings, it is taught that the MerKaBa is an interdimensional vehicle consisting of two equally sized, interlocked tetrahedra of light with a common centre, where one tetrahedron points up and the other down. This point symmetric form is called a stella octangula or stellated octahedron which can also be obtained by extending the faces of a regular octahedron until they intersect again.
Like many aspects of spirituality there are common aspects which run through all teachings and philosophies. What we are interested in here is not the singular exoteric explanation of one particular “truth” but an avenue of esoteric experiential truth which will hopefully unleash a better understanding of this Merkaba or chariot of light and allow us to use it for the purpose it was intended.
I will cover the cross commonalities and experiential truth in my next post.
Merkaba - Chariot of Light - Part 2