“Thus it is possible that in some Jewish texts, already beginning with antiquity, magic and mysticism can be regarded as two faces of the same coin. This is obvious in the Hekhalot literature.” (Moshe Idel)
Full of fantastic descriptions, Hekhalot (heavenly palaces) and Merkavah (Chariot) are ancient Hebrew mystical texts dating from around the second to the fifth century CE.
Cosmogony, cosmology (the creation of the world) and the divine forces that govern Creation are an integral part of the Hekhalot universe.
Apart for celestial and mystical images and narratives, these texts offer hidden names and incantations for various purposes, and reveal the secrets of reading the lines of the face, mainly the forehead, to determine an individual’s character and fate, along with the knowledge of palmistry. (Palmistry influenced Jewish mysticism in the Middle Ages, and left traces in the Zohar, a major Kabbalistic work. Together with face reading, Chochmat HaParzuf, palmistry has been practiced up to this very day.)
One of the main purposes of these texts was to instruct how to achieve direct experience of the Divine. After fasting (from one day to eighty) the mystic focused on a set of mandala-like images that would enable the meditator to leave his body, ascend and enter the seven celestial palaces.
Each palace had it’s own perils –horrendous punishments like decapitation or burning awaited the un-experienced or ignorant mystic. Worse even, some celestial guards acted arbitrarily, so that at times even the most adept mystic was doomed.
The mystic who survived and finally reached the seventh palace, stood to the right of the Throne of Glory, and acquired special information: the events of the future, the history and fate of every person, even knowledge of the darkest secrets kept in the recesses of people’s souls. In addition, this mystic gained heavenly protection and couldn’t be harmed, thus enjoying a special status.
Controlling the various incantations, enabled to affect celestial forces by means of sorcery, summon and bring down angels from heaven; good angels (like Metatron) or evil angels, the likes of ‘Uzza’ or ‘Aza’el.’
One of the Hekhalot texts (Sar ha-Torah, namely Prince of the Torah) recounts how the pronunciation of divine names brought down God and the Throne of Glory into the temple that served as the place of revelation.
As these practices strived to gain heavenly wisdom and manipulate celestial and divine forces, it is at this juncture, that the separation between mysticism and magic became blurred.