The Shemhamphorasch is a corruption of the Hebrew term Shem ha-Mephorash (שם המפורש), which was used in tannaitic times to refer to the Tetragrammaton. In early Kabbalah, the term was used to designate sometimes a 72-letter name for God, and sometimes a 42-letter name. Rashi said Shem ha-Mephorash was used for a 42-letter name, but Maimonides thought Shem ha-Mephorash was used only for the four letter Tetragrammaton.
A 216-letter name for God is found in Jewish Kabbalistic sources (mentioned by Tosafot as well as by the Kabbalists) as well as in Christian Kabbalah and in Hermetic Qabalah, derived from the 72 groups of three letters, each of these triplets being the name of an angel or intelligence. Spelling variants include Shemhamforash, Shemhamphorae, Shemhamphorash, Shemahamphorasch, Shemhamphoresh, Shem ha-Mephoresh, Shem ha-Mephorash, Shemhamphoresch, shem hamitfaresh.
Shemhamphorasch is a corruption of Shem ha-Mephorash (Hebrew: “the explicit name”, can be also be translated as “interpreted name”. In Hebrew, however, its primary use is in reference to the tetragrammaton, the 4-letter name of God which should not be pronounced, or said “explicitly”). The name itself is derived from Exodus 14:19-21, three verses each composed of 72 letters; by writing these out in boustrophedon form so that the second line is reversed, and grouping the letters in columns of threes, the names of 72 angels or intelligences or 72 Names of God are formed.
The table has four main rows, each main row with three sub-rows and eighteen columns. Thus, each main row contains 54 letters. Here is the math: 54 × 4 = 216. This way the two-hundred sixteen letter name of God is also encoded. More mathematical play reveals that 216 / 3 = 72, or 3 × 72 = 216.
- וַיִּסַּע מַלְאַךְ הָאֱלֹהִים הַהֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵי מַחֲנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֵּלֶךְ מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶם וַיִּסַּע עַמּוּד הֶעָנָן מִפְּנֵיהֶם וַיַּעֲמֹד מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶם׃
- And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:
- וַיָּבֹא בֵּין ׀ מַחֲנֵה מִצְרַיִם וּבֵין מַחֲנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיְהִי הֶעָנָן וְהַחֹשֶׁךְ וַיָּאֶר אֶת־הַלָּיְלָה וְלֹא־קָרַב זֶה אֶל־זֶה כָּל־הַלָּיְלָה׃
- And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness [to them], but it gave light by night [to these]: so that the one came not near the other all the night.
- וַיֵּט מֹשֶׁה אֶת־יָדֹו עַל־הַיָּם וַיֹּולֶךְ יְהוָה ׀ אֶת־הַיָּם בְּרוּחַ קָדִים עַזָּה כָּל־הַלַּיְלָה וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת־הַיָּם לֶחָרָבָה וַיִּבָּקְעוּ הַמָּיִם׃
- And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go [back] by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry [land], and the waters were divided.
According to European magical tradition, King Solomon is said to have evoked seventy-two demons, confined them in a bronze vessel sealed by magic symbols, and obliged them to work for him (this belief is also derived from the Apocryphal work, “The Testament of Solomon”, in which demons were brought to Solomon and he forced them to build Solomon’s Temple through the use of magic rings). These demons are catalogued in various magical grimoires, most notably in the Lemegeton, which gives descriptions of their powers, appearance and manner, as well as instructions for controlling them.
The earliest known connection between the Shemhamphorasch and the Tarot was made by Eliphas Levi in his Clefs Majeurs et Clavicules de Salomon, published 20 years after his death in 1875, in which he divides the 72 names into pairs, and attributes each pair to one of the four court cards or ten numbers, or one of the 22 major arcana cards, making a total of 36 pairs.
This was further fleshed out in the Golden Dawn’s Book T, which was renamed Liber 78 by Aleister Crowley when he published it in his occult periodical The Equinox. In the system promulgated by the Golden Dawn and Crowley, 36 pairs of angels (or “deacons”) are each given rulership of a 10-degree segment of the Zodiac, and to these are mapped the number cards (excluding aces) from the four suits.
In art the Shemhamphorasch can be seen on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s fresco has an architectural design of 24 columns. On each of these columns are two cherubs, which are mirror imaged on the adjoining column totaling 48 cherubs figures. Then on the 12 triangular spandrels flanking the ceiling borders are an additional 24 nude figures (two bronze nude figures per triangular spandrel) also mirroring imaging each other. This totals to 72 cherub figures or the 72 angels of God or names of God.
This spread of 48 cherubs and 24 bronze nude figures coincides perfectly with the reading of the three verses in Exodus 14:19-21. Beneath this cycle of angels are 7 prophets and 5 Sibylline oracles, which are patterned after the Zodiac/Calendar year. Beneath that are the 33 ancestors of Christ plus 3 additional symbols denoting the 36 decans of the Zodiac. It is interesting to note that the Zodiac/Calendar year and the 36 decans coupled with the numerical sequence in the Empyream (nine central panels) on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel denote the spread of the 56 Minor Arcana Tarot Cards.
Members who belong to the Church of Satan sign letters and emails and conduct rituals with the word ‘Shemhamforash’, although their version of it is different and contains 72 names of demons, not names of angels or God.
Angels and demons
Kabbalists and hermeticists have proposed correspondences between the 72 names of the Shemhamphorasch and a wide variety of other things, such as the Psalms, tarot cards, and so on. It is because of the flexibility (and numerical factorability) of the Shemhamphorasch that many ceremonial magicians consider it to be the key of creation of all things and all arts.
The names have long been associated with 72 angels, as well as 72 demons (found in the Lemegeton or Lesser Key of Solomon), who according to the lore and legend of grimoires can create or destroy the organization or disorganization of the elements into the creation of material reality.