Howls & Whispers: The Averse Sephiroth and the Spheres of the Qlippoth.

H & W title page “Whoever uses the Tree as a magical system must perforce know the Spheres of the Qlippoth, because he has no option but to deal with them”. Dion Fortune1.

© Ann Skea

In all Ted’s work, from the earliest times, his firm belief in the magical power of poetry included an awareness that the energies aroused in (or evoked by) a poem can have both positive and negative effects. He stated this belief quite openly in 1971, when he discussed ‘Hawk Roosting’, his two jaguar poems and (in particular) his poem ‘Gog’, with Ekbert Faas (UU 199). He spoke of it again, in 1978, when he introduced a reading of some of his poems for the Critical Forum recording2. And he would have been especially aware of this fact whilst writing the Birthday Letters poems, for he knew that in Cabbala, as in Hermeticism and magic, “everything is connected to everything else”, and the whole purpose of Cabbalistic ritual is to “not only represent, but also to call forth the divine life manifested in concrete symbols” and “to transmit to this transcendental essence … an influx of energy3.

Such calling forth and empowerment of the energies is, as the Jewish scholar of Cabbala, Gersolm Scholem wrote, the “magical aspect” of Cabbalistic ritual. And practising Cabbalists and magicians are constantly reminded that “It is a sound magical maxim not to invoke any force unless you are equipped to deal with its Averse aspect” (MQ 284). So Ted, who had experienced for himself the powerful energies called forth by poetic symbols, and who (as the poems and structure of Birthday Letters show) practiced his Cabbalistic, poetic rituals with the utmost care, took special care to deal with the Averse energies of the Cabbalistic Tree. All of his mature experience, knowledge and understanding went into the creation of Birthday Letters, and, perhaps, until this late stage of his life he did not feel equipped to deal with the Averse energies to which he would be exposed on this journey4. But in the eleven poems of Howls & Whispers, which he published as a limited edition, quite separate from Birthday Letters, there is clear evidence that Ted deliberately recognized and worked with the Averse energies of each Sephira in turn.

Apart from the evidence which can be found in the individual poems of Howls & Whispers, several aspects of the book and its publication confirm this. Most significantly, there are eleven poems in the sequence, and eleven is “the general number of magic” and is regarded by Cabbalists as an especially powerful ‘master’ number which, in ritual practice, is never reduced by adding its digits together5. Eleven, too, is the number of the Averse (Infernal) Sephira, the “accursed shells6 or Spheres of the Qlippoth, which exists like an ever-present shadow in our material World of Assiah. The Spheres of the Qlippoth, comprise the unbalanced, destructive energies of the ten Sephiroth of the Cabbalistic Tree, encircled by the energies of Samael, ‘The Angel of Poison and Death’, who, thus, makes the eleventh Averse Power7.

The number of copies of Howls & Whispers offered for sale – one hundred and ten – also has magical significance. The digits 110 represent the combined powers of 11 and 10 and 1 and 0; and the whole number represents the powers of 11 multiplied tenfold8.

In Cabbalistic texts, there are many different ‘pictures’ of the Averse tree and the Spheres of the Qlippoth. All agree, however, that these Averse energies are the result of imbalance or lack of control, in which one kind of energy, unchecked by others, becomes “over-active or over passive, creating frenzy on one side and grinding resistance on the other9. The Averse energies are part of our world of change and they cannot be destroyed but Cabbalists agree that they are an essential, and even valuable, part of the whole, for, as William Blake proclaimed, “Without Contraries is no Progression” (MHH Plate 3). Like the Chinese symbol of Yin and Yang, there is always a seed of light in the deepest darkness and a seed of darkness in the brightest light, and without this there could be no change, no growth, no renewal. Samael /Satan, Prince of the Spheres of the Qlippoth and ‘Prince of Death’, is also Lucifer, The Light Bearer; and the task of the experienced Cabbalist is to “call forth” that divine spark within the Averse energies of each Qlippothic shell and reunite it with the other energies so that balance and ‘right order’ are restored and a new beginning can be made..

A Cabbalist’s work, like that of a shaman or an Hermeticist (Ted has been called both), is founded on the belief that “Nothing is separate in Creation, nothing can operate on its own, because all is One” (AKT 237). So, although the symbols with which a Cabbalist chooses to work may have personal significance (as they do in Howls & Whispers), the energies they embody are universal. The magical effect of the Cabbalist’s ritual, therefore, will be universal.

In Howls & Whispers, Ted takes the Path of Wisdom (which is also the Path of the Serpent) and ascends the Sephirothic Tree from the lowest sphere of Malkuth (10) to Kether (1), at its crown, visiting each Sephira in reverse order to that in which the Lightning Flash from the Divine Source transmits its energies down the Tree.

This Path of Wisdom is taken, voluntarily or involuntarily, by every human being who becomes aware of their spiritual self. It is the route from the vegetative existence of Natural Man, who exists at the lowest extremity of the Cabbalistic Tree, to self-awareness, self-development and, for some, full spiritual awareness and growth. It represents the first steps of the ascent of Jacob’s Ladder, which extends from Earth to Heaven and which may bring the few who continue to climb it to union with the Divine Source. As such, the Path of Wisdom is the Way by which the Divine Spark (which lies like an ember in coal) may be kindled within the darkest matter and nurtured until it burns with a steady flame. It is the appropriate Path therefore, for a Cabbalist who intends to deal with the Qlippothic energies, and it also provides a traditional, protective, ritual framework within which to do this.


‘Paris 1954’

(H&W, 1, THCP 1173).

Malkuth: Sephira 10: The Kingdom: The Gate.
Element: Earth.
Qlippothic Sphere of Lilith.

Virtue: Discrimination.
Vice: Avarice. Inertia.
Illusion: Materialism.
Qlippoth: Stasis. Inertia.

In ‘Paris 1954’, Ted looks back across time from a different plane of experience and understanding and sees himself again as vegetative Natural Man, immersed in the Kingdom of Malkuth, which is the marginal, material world -‘Gateway of Life’ and ‘Gateway of Death’ – in which we all live. Once again, as at the start of his Birthday Letters journey, he is The Fool – an un-wise innocent, totally absorbed by bodily, sensual pleasures. He sees himself on the margins of an unfamiliar culture, in a strange place, and ready to step blindly off into a new life, unaware of a danger which, in his youthful, inexperienced state, he “could never imagine”10.

The Qlippoth of Malkuth is inertia, sloth, and the sort of lack of discrimination between truth and illusion which allows us to value and cling to material things and be seduced by “Pomps and Pageants11. For Ted, “that moment” in Paris in 1954, when he tasted “that wine” and chewed “that cheese”, swamped his judgment to the extent that for “the rest of his life” he clung to the illusion that it was possible to “recapture the marvel”.

Unlike “the first peach [he] ever tasted” in ‘Fulbright Scholars’ (BL 3, THCP 1045) (the Birthday Letters poem in which he is similarly on the brink of a new life), there is no suggestion in ‘Paris 1954’ that he learned anything from his new experience: no hint, as there was in ‘Fulbright Scholars’, that he gained any understanding of his own “ignorance of the simplest things”. Instead, Ted looks back at his earlier self and sees how easily he was seduced by his senses; how vulnerable he was to the overwhelmingly sensual experience of falling in love; and how this led to the horrors which later beset him.

In Cabbalistic demonology, it is Lilith, the Evil Woman, who rules the darkness of Malkuth. First, as a beautiful woman she enchants and seduces the unwary: later she changes into a black demon. Essentially, however, she is the manifestation of the Goddess as Hag, Death Goddess, Queen of the Night; and her creature, like that of Dionysus, is the panther, or any other of the big cats.

As it happened, Sylvia, who was already a priestess of the Goddess in her poetic role, chose to evoke the Panther in her pursuit of Ted. There is no evidence to suggest that Sylvia saw herself as a priestess of the Goddess at that time, or that the panther in her poem ‘Pursuit’ (SPCP 22 - 23) was anything more than an instinctive, dramatic and appropriate symbol of her emotional state, but in Ted’s mature view of poetic symbols it brought with it powerful energies. And, by dedicating that poem “to Ted Hughes”, as Sylvia did in her journal (SPJ 27 Feb. 1956), she magically linked that power with him and, so, brought it into his life.

In ‘Paris 1954’, the Panther / Lilith is the source of the scream which will devour Ted’s “soul”12. But this scream had been heard before in Ted’s work as the outrage and pain of desecrated Nature, and as her summons to the unawakened Soul of a chosen being who is blind to his own roots and to the chaos and horror he causes and allows. It is there in the genesis of Crow13, that amoral, soul-less bundle of energy which Ted said was “created by God’s nightmare’s attempt to improve man” (UU 206). It begins the “Alchemical Drama” of Cave Birds14, where it presages the summoning of the protagonist to judgment (or, as in the Exeter drafts: “The (protagonist) hero, in the decent piety of his innocence, is surprised. What has he failed to take account of?”). And, it became the “thousands, millions of cries - wailings, groans, screams” of the Iron Woman, a sound which disturbed Ted so much that he put off writing the story for more than a decade15.

Nature’s summons is described by Robert Graves as the call of the Goddess who, “the longer her hour is postponed and therefore the more exhausted by man’s irreligious improvidence the natural resources of the soil and sea become, the less merciful” will she be. And the judgment meted out by Graves’s Goddess is every bit as vengeful and bloody as the horrors Ted describes in ‘Paris 1954’.

For Ted, as for Graves, the Goddess’s summons was an imperative which no true poet could ignore. But the young man Ted watches in ‘Paris 1954’ is naively unprepared for the total surrender she will demand and the dreadful punishment she will inflict. Nothing in the material world which so enchants him, warns him of the extremes to which the Goddess “now in the likeness of a girl” will soon expose him. She is the gatekeeper of Hell, but that same gate also leads to Heaven. And, although she lies between him and ‘The Creator’ like the Red Coiled Stooping Dragon of the Apocalypse, it is her summons which awakens his soul. If he responds to her call, it will be her judgment and the “penalties” she imposes (her tests and “nuclear fires”) which will burn away the impurities within him, free his spirit, and set it on the Path of Wisdom.

Ted’s poem encompasses the extreme depths of the energies of Malkuth and the terrible power of illusion that sensual pleasures can have over us. Illusion can be so strong that the most bloody, terrifying and deadly things seem acceptable and even desirable: seem not just like happiness and hope, but, as they do to the young man in ‘Paris 1954’, like “all happiness” and “all hope”. This is the sort of illusion which allowed Ted’s naïve, unaware Cave Birds hero to feel “brave and creaturely” and invulnerable, despite the grisly horrors all around him16. This, too, is the world in which we pursue our own pleasures, whilst the most terrible events fill our TV screens and newspapers.

Yet how else could we go on living? “What should a man do but be merry?”, asks Hamlet, struggling against despair (H.III: ii: 132). Laughter and hope, as in the very lines of Ted’s poem, bring a glimmer of light into the darkness: and the human spirit reaches towards that light, or despairs and dies.

But laughter and hope, too, can be deceptive. And to believe that our lives can be all happiness and all hope is a foolish illusion. So, if we are to achieve harmony and peace, we must strive for discretion and balance.

In the penultimate lines of ‘Paris 1954’, Ted presents the two extremes of the energies of Malkuth. And his own experience of the horrors to which these extremes led him, gives the lines powerful emotional force. ‘A scream’ fills the first line; the illusion of it’s “Sounding like all happiness” and “all hope” fills the third; but balanced between them is the active reaching towards harmony, the “trying to sound like laughter and hope”, which is the real spark of light buried in the scream.

Ted’s final line, spoken from his mature state of understanding, awareness and experience as he wrote the poem, is set on its own to emphasize its importance. As a mature, fully conscious Cabbalist, Ted would have immersed himself in the energies of Tiphereth, at the heart of the Tree, in order to see everything with clarity. Tiphereth’s energies integrate the whole person; and one who meditates, fully conscious at Tiphereth, and knowingly observes himself, is known as ‘The Watcher’. Ted chose the tense of the verb in the final line of his poem very carefully, for, as the Watcher, he understood that his younger self was still part of him, not just in memory but for as long as his body responded to sensual pleasures and his mind responded to hope.

And so it is for all of us. Constant watchfulness is necessary if we wish to learn discretion and avoid the illusions that our senses lead us into. Such is the teaching of Cabbala, and of most other spiritual disciplines. In the Bible, St Matthew’s Gospel exhorts us to “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation”, but also acknowledges the difficulty of this, for “the spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). And Shakespeare’s Hamlet, having learned from experience that few people want their comfortable, pleasurable illusions shattered by the harsh light of truth, puns bitterly on ‘dear’ and ‘heart’ as he accurately describes our common situation:

Why let the stricken deer go weep,
the hart ungalled play,
For some must watch, while some must sleep,
So runs the world away.
    (Hamlet: III: ii. 287)



(H&W 2, THCP 1174).

Yesod: Sephira 9: Foundation.
Element: Aether.
Planet: Levanah (The Moon).
Qlippothic Sphere of Gamaliel.

Virtue: Independence.
Vice: Idleness.
Illusion: Security.
Qlippoth: Zombeism. Possession.

Yesod and Malkuth both occupy the Seventh Infernal Palace of the Averse Tree. Yesod, ruled by the Moon, is full of fluid energies. It is a place of change and illusion, and the Moon Goddess may manifest here as Hecate, Selene or Diana. Her enchantments, now, are particularly dangerous, because Yesod is the Sphere in which her magic affects both the body and the mind; and Yesod is the Foundation, the place where the personal identity (or Ego) is formed.

Only through Yesod can the branches of the Upper Tree be reached from Malkuth. It is the interface, the conduit for the energies to and from the Upper Tree, and the secret door to the imagination and to all the mind’s instinctive, intuitive, subconscious and psychic powers. As such, it is known as ‘The Treasurehouse of Images’.

The Qlippoth of Yesod is Possession, and its Illusion is security. Colin Low17 notes that the illusion of security is often closely associated with personal identity and values: this gives a “warm, secure feeling of knowing what is right and wrong”. Threats to that illusion can so easily cause feelings of “existential terror” and panic, that the ego will use “any beliefs which give it the power to retain its identity, uniqueness and integrity”. He notes, too, that “religious, political or scientific ideologies” are particularly powerful for this purpose.

In ‘Religion’, Ted describes the darkest, most unbalanced aspects of Sylvia’s Yesodic self. This was her Foundation - a personal identity formed since childhood, expressed in her “childhood’s / Diaries”, and based on her “mythos” of “Love” and “sacrificial murder”.

The Qlippoth of Possession governs Sylvia, who is possessed by love. It is her “religion”, but it is a devouring, one-sided “hunger” to possess her loved ones completely. This is love at the primitive level of Crow, whose ‘Lovesong’ (C 88 - 9. THCP 55-6) describes a greedy, self-serving, horrible and destructive feast.

And there is another Yesodic, Qlippothic perversion of love in Ted’s ‘devouring’ imagery in ‘Religion’. It derives from the traditional identification of Yesod with the human generative organs. And it refelects the neurotic fears of the Yesodic male, who, fearful of woman’s sexual power over him, created the illusory, imaginative image of the castrating ‘toothed vagina’: the devouring, deadly ‘mouth’ which is a motif in many primitive mythologies.

In Sylvia’s “church”, where love entails “inexorable murder” and “Murder is of a piece / With the mouth”, it is Sylvia’s words which bite and tear and destroy life. “Roots”, “seeds”, “eggs” are all devoured; “hearts” (with wonderful paronomasia) are “bitten into” and bitten in two. Words, as Sylvia understood very well when she wrote her poem about them shortly before her death (SPCP 270), can be “Axes”, and she had often used them as such. But her intention had been to find healing and wholeness: to destroy in order to re-create. The words with which she “killed” her mother (in The Bell Jar, in ‘Medusa’ (SPCP 224 - 225) and in her journals) and her father (in ‘Daddy’ (SPCP 222 - 224), for example), were part of a deliberate psychological “cleansing”: an attempt to come to terms with the terrors of rejection, guilt and panic which she associated with “people I love”, as her journal notes of meetings with her psychologist, Ruth Beutscher, show18. So, in this sense, her words and the saliva which allowed her to utter them were both killing and healing: a “scream of love” and a “chrism of love”.

The final stanza of ‘Religion’ sums up the mental and physical parameters of Sylvia’s Yesodic self. It links fixed mental fervour and an extreme and distorted illusion of self with the real, bodily expression of passion. Heaven becomes a construct of the mind’s mythos and, in the framework of Sylvia’s religion, love is self-orientated, perverted and deadly – all the Qlippothic aspects of love. But the poem ends with Sylvia’s active, physical expression of that passion, expressed in love directed towards others in kisses from “real lips”, “here on earth”, and in words which, ultimately, “were the blessing” of real love.

Thus, in the final lines of ‘Religion’, Ted reveals the active, outwardly focussed, positive aspect of human passion, which is the light which lies hidden in the Qlippothic darkness of the Infernal Palace of Yesod and Malkuth.


1. Fortune, D., The Mystical Qabalah, Society of the Inner Light, London, 1998. p. 285.

2. The Critical Forum, Norwich Tapes, London, 1978. A transcript of Ted’s introduction can be found at Forum.htm.

3. Scholem, G., On Kabbala and its Symbolism, Schocken Books, N.Y. 1969. pp. 122 - 124.

4. In conversation with me in 1995, Ted said that Birthday Letters dealt with things he “should have resolved thirty years ago. Should have written then, but couldn’t”.

5.Crowley, A. ‘Gematria’, 777 , Weisser Books, Boston, 1977. p. 28. Theoretically, but never in ritual practice, the digits of the master numbers 11 and 22 may be considered separately or added together in order to understand the full extent of their symbolic meaning and ritual power.

6. Crowley. 777. Ibid. p, xxv.

7. “Samael is considered to be identical with Satan”. Crowley, ‘Gematria’,777. Ibid. p. 12.

8. The promotional leaflet produced by Gehenna press describes Howls & Whispers as “strays" from the Birthday Lettersseries” and it is tempting to link this with a common description of Qlippoth as left-over fragments, or shells, of a failed creation. The leaflet, however, was not written by Ted, although he saw it and seems to have edited it, deleting the word ‘great’, for example, from a sentence which describes him as “the great English poet”. (Baskin-Hughes archive, British Library).

9. Halevi, S. Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree, Rider, London, 1978. p. 235.

10. Ted’s first trip to Paris was made with his Uncle Walter in 1954. He had just come down from Cambridge, so he was, indeed, on the brink of a new life. The date in the poem’s title, however, was changed from ‘1957’ only at the proof stage of Howls & Whispers, as directed in a letter from Ted to Baskin dated Feb. 1996 (British Library Hughes-Baskin archive). Possibly, Ted wrote the poem at the same time as ‘Your Paris’ (BL 36 - 38) (THCP 1065), but neither he nor Sylvia was in Paris in 1957, so this date, in any case, was a mistake.

11. For the Cabbalist, as for the Hermeticist, this is the unawakened state of the soul, which choosing “things Mortal”, is “seduced by the pleasures of the body”, occupies itself in “Pomps and Pageants” and, so, becomes wholly immersed in darkness. (Everard. The Divine Pymander of Hermes, Wizard’s Bookshelf, San Diego, 1978. p. 84).

12. The original title of this poem was ‘The Scream’ (Typescript copy, British Library Baskin- Hughes archive).

13. ‘Lineage’ (C 14, THCP 218).

14. ‘The Scream’ (CB 7, THCP 419).

15. In an interview with Blake Morrison in 1993, Ted said he had begun writing The Iron Woman in the mid 1980s “and at one point I was scared by it and had to back off. The image of that scream in particular alarmed me. I wasn’t sure what I was pushing myself into. So I left it alone for a bit and turned to Shakespeare instead whilst I got used to it”. (‘Man of Mettle’, The Independent on Sunday, 5 Sept. 1993).

16. ‘The Scream’ (CB 7, THCP 419).

17. Colin Low, Notes on Kabbalah. Downloadable book at, 2001. p. 39.

18. SPJ. Especially the entries made on 27 Dec. 1958, and 3 Jan. 1959).

Howls & Whispers text and illustrations. © Ann Skea 2005. For permission to quote any part of this document contact Dr Ann Skea at

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