Preface by Cherry Gilchrist: The Babylonian Connection
After the original Soho Cabbala group dispersed in the mid-60s, the three main leaders - Alan Bain, Glyn Davies and Tony Potter – developed their own independent lines in the following years. As Glyn Davies began the process of reformulating his approach, he was drawn to the ancient Babylonian mythology as a way of illuminating the principles of the Tree of Life. His aim, as he stated it, was to open up a way forward which wouldn’t be dependent on the existing Golden Dawn teachings, or the authority of the Zohar. Out of this to start with came his book The Phoenician Letters. Sometimes, to renew a philosophy or indeed an art form, the necessary inspiration is found by digging deeper into the past– this was the case, for instance, with Renaissance music and art which turned to classical sources. Pre-Judaic Cabbala provided a similar springboard in this instance, and Glyn also found that some of the complex Assyrian glyphs which represented ‘the sacred tree’, (see below) gave a precedent for devising an ‘extended tree’ within modern Cabbala (see The Extended Tree).
This occurred in the early 1970s. At this time, as a newcomer to Cabbala and esoteric interests, I was avidly buying up old books on mythological subjects, and I happened to give one about Assyrian and Babylonian mythology to Glyn. He accepted it with interest, and it seemed to act as a trigger for the new schema. Later, he jokingly told me the outcome of The Phoenician Letters was ‘all my fault’!
This sets the scene for the diagram which Rod Thorn discusses below. And the somewhat surprising connections which Rod also points out, to other contemporaries and to a legendary brotherhood, remind me of the old Cabbalistic adage: ‘Funny how it works, isn’t it?’
The House of the Gods
The Phoenician Letters  is structured as a series of ten letters written to a “Prince of the Land of the Four Directions.” Each letter talks about the responsibilities and teachings of one of the gods, preparing the Prince for his role and preparing him for initiation into the Sar-Ma’an Brotherhood.
The House of the Gods in the Phoenician Letters (Illustration by Gila Zur)
The house of the gods shown above is similar to the modern Kabbalistic Tree of Life, with ten principles joined by 22 paths, each marked with a letter from the alphabet. The Phoenician Letters provides an interesting and useful perspective on the Tree, and implicitly suggests that the origin of the Tree goes back further than one might think.
This same suggestion has been put forward more recently, by Simo Parpola of the University of Helsinki . In a 1993 paper he argues that early images of sacred trees from Mesopotamia bear a striking similarity to the Tree of Life. The abstract of the paper reads as follows:
“A stylized tree with obvious religious significance already occurs as an art motif in fourth-millennium Mesopotamia, and, by the second millennium b.c, it is found everywhere within the orbit of the ancient Near Eastern oikumene. including Egypt, Greece, and the Indus civilization. The meaning of the motif is not clear, but its overall composition strikingly recalls the Tree of Life of later Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist art. The question of whether the concept of the Tree of Life actually existed in ancient Mesopotamia has been debated, however, and thus many scholars today prefer the more neutral term "sacred tree" when referring to the Mesopotamian Tree.”
It seems difficult to prove a direct connection between the modern form of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life (which appeared in its current form in the Middle Ages) and these ancient Mesopotamian Sacred Trees, but even if there is no direct link, the archetype of a tree connecting heaven to earth seems widespread in human culture and perhaps both traditions tapped into this.
Nabu (or Nebo as he is referred to in the Bible) is the ancient Mesopotamian patron god of literacy, the rational arts, scribes and wisdom. He occupies the place of the sephira Hod in the Tree of Life represented by the House of the Gods in The Phoenician Letters. The heart of Nebo is a six-spoked number spiral representing a mystery at the centre of number.
Colossal statue of the god Nabu, 8th century BCE. From Nimrud, Mesopotamia, Iraq.
It is in the Iraq Museum. Image from Wikimedia.
The Number Spiral
In The Phoenician Letters, the Heart of Nebo is based on a number spiral (shown below), where the numbers spiral out from zero at the centre, completing one turn of the spiral every six numbers, so the first four turns of the spiral are:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12,
13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 ….
Each of the six spokes is made by columns of these numbers – numbers spaced apart by six, so the spoke at 4 o’clock is made from the first number in each turn of the spiral, 1, then 1+6 = 7, 7+6 = 13, 13+6 = 19, and so on:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12,
13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 ….
The next spoke is made from the second number in each cycle: 2, 8, 14, 20, … all even numbers.
The spoke at 8 o’clock is made from the third numbers: 3, 9, 15, 21, … all multiples of three.
The next spoke is made from the fourth numbers: 4, 10, 16, 22, … again, all even numbers.
The next spoke is made from the fifth numbers: 5, 11, 17, 23, ...
The spoke at 2 o’clock is made from the sixth numbers, all multiples of 6: 6, 12, 18, 24, …
Most of the numbers are divisible by another number, but the first and the fifth spokes also contain prime numbers, which cannot be divided by any other number. In fact all prime numbers are in these two spokes.
There are other spirals shown on the diagram, moving in both directions, showing the paths of multiples of the numbers in spokes one and five. The heart shape shown by a heavy line is made from two spirals, one of 5s – 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, … and one of 7s: 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, … The dotted lines show other spirals, making a spider shape.
The diagram is described in The Phoenician Letters as follows:
“Now you know that Nebo’s sign is the star sign of six, and that from its centre a spiral goes forth, and you may have been told that such is the spider's web. This is not so. As you have heard, ‘From nothing comes forth all.’ At the centre of the star is nothing, and the spiral is the growth of number. One division on the first part, two for the second, three and so on. But it continues out to all which is Rimon. Can you number the drops in the ocean, the sand grains of the desert, the stars in the sky like dust, each as a sun with attendant gods, each with his houses and messengers and subjects? And so the spiral is without end.
The Bees of Knowledge
There’s an interesting connection between the Heart of Nebo and a Science Fiction story included in a book by Barrington J Bayley called The Knights of the Limits.
In an unwritten occult teaching
various ascending orders of spacetime
are defined in terms of "the Knights of the Limits” 
The story is called The Bees of Knowledge and tells of a space traveller stranded on the planet Handrea, where giant bees gather knowledge and in their hive make ‘the honey of experience’. The traveller is taken into their hive and there he befriends a number-obsessed fly. Eventually he makes his way to the centre of the hive and tastes the honey which puts him into a trance:
“Like my friend the Fly, the Bees are much interested in mathematics but theirs is of a type that not even he would be able to understand (any more than I could, except intuitively when I was in the grip of the trance). What would he have made, with his obsession with numbers, of the Bees’ theorem that there is a highest positive integer! To human mathematicians this would make no sense. The Bees accomplish it by arranging all numbers on six spokes, centred about the number One. They then place on the spokes of this great wheel certain number series which are claimed to contain the essence of numbers and which go spiralling through it, diverging and converging in a winding dance. All these series meet at last in a single immense number. This, according to the theorem, is the opposite pole of the system of positive integers, of which One is the other pole, and is referred to as Hyper-One. This is the end of numbers as we know them. Hyper-One then serves as One for a number system of a higher order. But, to show the hypothetical nature of the Bees’ deliberations there is a quite contrary doctrine which portrays all numbers as emanating from a number Plenum, so that every number is potentially zero.”
Bayley acknowledges Glyn’s contribution to the idea: "The six-based number spiral and the concept of Hyper-One described in 'The Bees of Knowledge' are borrowed, with thanks, from the mathematical efforts of W. G. Davies.”
Barry was a friend of Glyn’s and in earlier days the two of them and the writer Michael Moorcock had been flatmates for a while. Barry is mentioned as a helper on Glyn and Gila’s translation of the Sepher Bahir where he is thanked “for enabling us to simplify the technical patterns and drawings.”
I remember Glyn recommending that I read Bayley’s books, and I enjoyed them and their challenging ideas, particularly The Garments of Caean, his novel about clothes which took over the wearer! Barry continued writing inventive SF stories until his death in 2008.
The Sar-Ma’an Brotherhood
One connection between the bees of knowledge and the heart of Nebo is of course the number six – honeycombs are hexagonal in shape. But there is perhaps another link which completes a circle back to the Sar-Ma’an Brotherhood mentioned in The Phoenician letters.
This comes via an article written in 1965 by Major Desmond Martin, an associate of the author Idries Shah , describing his visit to a monastery of the ‘Sarmoun Brotherhood’. According to Major Martin, the name Sarmoun means ‘The Bees’, and their motto is 'Work produces a Sweet Essence'. He says:
“There are many legends about Sarmoun-Dargauh ('Court of the Bees'), and one of them is this. True knowledge, it is asserted, exists as a positive commodity, like the honey of the bee. Like honey, it can be accumulated. From time to time in human history, however, it lies unused and starts to leak away. On those occasions the Sarmouni and their associates all over the world collect it and store it in a special receptacle. Then, when the time is ripe, they release it into the world again, through specially trained emissaries.” 
The account has many points of commonality with the ‘Sarmoung’ monastery that Gurdjieff describes in Meetings With Remarkable Men , and that was portrayed in the film of the same name by Peter Brook:
There is much debate about whether the Sarmoung (or Sarmoun or Sar-Ma’an) brotherhood existed or whether it was a vehicle for passing on certain teachings, but perhaps this is not the most important question to ask. What is it that lies behind these ideas? What is it that lies behind the idea of ancient Mesopotamian sacred trees, and Cabbalistic Tree of Life diagrams? What lies behind the idea of the Bees of Knowledge and their honey? Perhaps that is where the mystery really begins!
 Wilfred Davies & G Zur, The Phoenician Letters, (Mowat, 1979). Copies of the Book are available from Aranstone Books firstname.lastname@example.org at £6.00 per copy.
 Simo Parpola, The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy, Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul., 1993), pp. 161-208. Available via JSTOR at https://www.jstor.org/stable/545436?seq=1.
 Barrington Bayley, The Knights of the Limits (Allison and Busby, 1978)
 Various theories about the Sarmoung Brotherhood are given in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarmoung_Brotherhood including information about Major Martin’s account.
 Major Martin’s account is available at https://web.archive.org/web/20090302090139/http://www.cosmopolis.com/files/sarmoun-brotherhood.html
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