Although not widely known outside of her native country of France and of Italy – where she still holds lecture tours even though in her early 90s, Annick de Souzenelle has been an esoteric scholar, lecturer and writer of high standing for over 50 years.
Born in Rennes in 1922, Souzenelle, at an early age, became aware of the wider world she was born into – one which she soon assessed and questioned with a suspicious and judgmental eye as she witnessed the continuing aftermath of World War One.
As a child she was heavily influenced by the Catholic teachings that prevailed within every aspect of her daily life and of the all the religious teachings she was taught to she was particularly drawn towards the Bible and one aspect to the sacred text that she found both fascinating and mysterious.
De Souzenelle wondered why it was that in so many stories, tales and Biblical texts, parts of the human body played a central or key role. She noticed that very often these body parts were surprisingly obscure and relatively unimportant outside of their significant role in mythic fables or sacred parables.
Frustrated by the inability of her teachers to explain the reason behind what she thought was a self-evident mystery De Souzenelle decided to go in search of answers in the only available repository of knowledge at that time namely local museums.
Rather than finding answers to the questions that she had formed in her mind the mystery deepened when she came across even odder references to body parts in many religious and educational establishments.
These included strange effigies of Christ with horns on his head, dog-headed men and little men with huge ears. To a young and impressionable mind it made no sense.
An Unfolding Life
De Souzenelle eventually became a psychotherapist and nurse. She explored the psychological world and particularly the writings of C.G. Jung. She also immersed herself in Kabbalstic writings and its associated disciplines.
In particular she studied the Hebrew alphabet and the mysteries surrounding its twenty-two letters or glyphs.
In 1974 she published a Kabbalistic appraisal related to the mysteries of the human body and, with reference to the Hebrew alphabet, she revealed the secret tradition of sacred body symbolism that had so intrigued her from an early age.
Her book ‘The Body and Its Symbolism’ has never been out of print since its first publication. Despite being translated into several other languages, the book has never appeared in English until now when a new edition, translated by Christopher Chaplin and Tony James was released by Quest Books.
The Sacred Temple
For thousands of years spiritual teachings have referred to the physical body as a sacred temple of arcane knowledge. In ‘The Body and its Symbolism’ its author establishes the sacred framework that reveals the esoteric principles that lay behind that truth.
The book opens by reiterating the basics of Kabbalistic thinking; namely the principle of the Tetragrammaton and the form of the ten spheres of the Sefirotic Tree.
Although not quite so often used to formulate her esoteric ideas, the author also references another aspect of Jewish mysticism namely that of Gematria.
Although she primarily cites Biblical passages in her exploration of the sacred mysteries de Souzenelle also leans heavily upon many ideas that are inherent within the spiritual components of Jungian psychology, classical Greek mythology, Egyptian iconography and Hindu scripture.
As she progresses through her extensive research into the meaning and relevance of Hebrew words, she calls upon references to one part of the body after another. Once again, these are not limited to purely common parts of the human anatomy but also, when they appear in Biblical texts, to important inner organs, bodily functions and physical ailments.
In closing her book De Souzenelle reflects upon her work from the perspective of thirty years on from its initial publication.
In it she recalls how she became so fascinated by the human body along with its beauty and fragility.
In doing so she reflects upon her life spent engaged with the physical human vehicle from both a mundane perspective as a nurse and from a metaphysical perspective as an occultist.
I also came to understand that the very shape of man’s body was significant, that the name of its organs and limbs revealed a secret function and that the whole body was a language and possessed a language of enjoyment or pain.
She sounds like a woman who finally resolved those youthful mysteries that set her off on her life’s path so many decades earlier.
Our Review of ‘The Body and Its Symbolism’ by Annick de Souzenelle
There will be but a very few occultists, Hebrew scholars, religious philosophers or even open-minded members of the modern medical profession who will not take something of value and importance from this book.
Like so many Kabbalistic commentaries it can be obtuse at times, infuriating to get any meaningful perspective on a subject and irrational in its assumptions however these are all rich and loving characteristics of a book and an author whose function is to lift the lid on the mysteries of the human experience.
As a publication it is extremely well translated thus reducing greatly the opportunity for ambiguity to creep in. Its inclusion of some valuable illustrations break up its deep and occasionally dry commentary.
All in all this is a book that is very hard not to live and deeply appreciate. I spent over a month assessing it prior to formulating my review and found its ideas increasingly burying its way into my conscious – deeper and deeper on each successive read.
Yes, it is a large and rambling piece of work and yes it does drift back and forth through a lack of cohesive threads to string it together but you know what? – I loved it for those qualities as well as for the sheer depth of insight that the author offers regarding the strangest and mist bizarre elements of our popular Biblical stories and religious teachings.
To many non-Kabbalists this book will seem strange and other-worldly but if you have an interest in the value of parable and fable to convey secret teachings and metaphysical insights then this is a book that will delight and astound you.
It’s a pity that it took quite so long to get into English print and thereby to reward its author by crediting her with the respect she so richly deserves for her lifetime’s work. Maybe, through interest generated by this title, other translations of Annick de Souzenelle’s writing will follow.
‘The Body and its Symbolism’ is a timeless look at the sacredness of the human vehicle and the way in which it has been believed, over many millennia, to hold esoteric teachings that previously were only available only to those ‘in the know’. Annick de Souzenelle’s work is a magnificent and spell-binding epic with a unique and valuable place in spiritual philosophy.