Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Project: Understanding the Merkavah User Manual in 2000 pages or less


Whilst my Wisdom in 40 days project is underway, I've taken on a second project to gain some more academic knowledge about Merkavah and Hechalot Mysticism. Here are a couple of links to definitions of Ma'aseh Merkavah (workings of the chariot) on Wikipedia and Jewish Encyclopedia.

Putting it in project terms, here is a brief summary:
  • Scope: Read 2000 pages of academic literature on Merkavah and Hechalot Mysticism
  • Time: 7 month deadline
  • Cost: Sunk cost of books purchased to date is in region of £200-300. No further purchases expected.
  • Quality: Not applicable (see below)
  • Communication: Periodic reviews of books on this blog and LiveJournal from a non-academic perspective.
  • Risks: Information overload or issues in life getting in the way.
Here is a list of the books that will be read over the next 7 months at the expected rate of 10 pages per day. This is a rather arbitrary metric in that it in no conveys any comprehension of the topics discussed in these books. Coming from an academic background involving life sciences and computing, words such as phenomenological, hermeneutics and zoomorphic-anthropomorphism will take some getting used to.



In order to assess the level of understanding of this material and integrate it in to my current limited understanding of Jewish mysticism in general, I am planning to give an introductory talk on the subject of Merkavah Mysticism around the middle of 2011. That will address the question of comprehension and quality measurements as the success criteria of this endeavour are to find out if I've learnt enough to present an informed introduction to this subject and answer questions from the lecture audience.

This is the list of books that will be read between now and the middle of 2011:

Beholders of Divine Secrets: Mysticism and Myth in the Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature
Vita Daphna Arbel
262 pages

Jewish Mysticism and Magic: An Anthropological Perspective (Routledge Jewish Studies)
Maureen Bloom
231 pages

Through a Speculum That Shines
Elliot R. Wolfson
462 pages

The Hidden and Manifest God: Some Major Themes in Early Jewish Mysticism (SUNY Series in Judaica)
Peter Schafer (Author), Aubrey Pomerance (Translator)
198 pages

The Poetics of Ascent: Theories of Language in a Rabbinic Ascent Text (Suny Series in Judaica : Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Culture)
Naomi Janowitz
172 pages

Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism)
James R. Davila
342 pages

Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition
Gershom G. Scholem (Author)
102 pages

Ritual Practices to Gain Power: Angels, Incantations, and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism (Harvard Theological Studies series)
Rebecca Macy Lesses
400 pages

Optional books, these are included in the category of "stretch goal":

Jewish Mysticism: The Infinite Expression of Freedom
Rachel Elior(Author), Yudith Nave (Translator), Arthur B. Millman (Translator)
207 pages

Inner Space: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation and Prophecy
Aryeh Kaplan
254 pages

The Early Kabbalah (Classics of Western Spirituality)
Joseph Dan (Editor), Ronald C. Kiener (Translator)
224 pages

Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts from the Cairo Genizah (Semitic Texts and Studies)
Lawrence Schiffmann (Author), Michael Swartz (Author)
158 pages

Books I do not own but might consider adding to this small collection:

A Transparent Illusion: The Dangerous Vision of Water in Hekhalot Mysticism : A Source-Critical and Tradition-Historical Inquiry (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism)
Christopher R. A. Morray-Jones
322 pages

The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism
Rachel Elior
301 pages



The one question that has been going around my head all week when deciding whether to take on this project or not is - why? Why read all this literature and perhaps not even get the chance to try to read and translate the texts? The simple answer is that the project is a nice way to package up actually reading through all the books in one go having attempted to read one or two of them in the past. The other reason is my hypothesis that trying to understand any later works of Kababalah and Jewish Mysticism is incomplete without properly understanding this body of knowledge.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Setting Expectations and Measuring Success


I started a daily meditation a couple of weeks ago to gain Wisdom (Hochmah) and like any good project manager I wanted to do a frequent review to see how things were progressing. Making sure that the check part of plan-do-check-act gets some love and attention. Anyway, the thing is – I had no idea how to measure the success of this working.

Here's the project Management bit about the importance of setting expectations and measuring success,

“One important thing for a Project Manager is to set expectations about the likely outcome of a project or part of a project. It's no use reporting that the status is 'Green' until the last week of a project only to report 'Red' at the end - when the signs were indicating that things were going wrong for at least a couple of weeks. Such as one or more risks actually occurring and adversely affecting the project or maturation of the end product not tracking against a predicted curve.

Metrics are a useful measure of progress towards success, but they can also indicate when things are going off-track. One common problem on projects is that the wrong metrics are chosen. The metrics may have worked on a previous success and been good indicators of whether the project is likely to meet the success criteria or not. But on a different project those same metrics may be partly or wholly inappropriate.“


So let's look at a biblical example of a situation where an expectation has been set – but because the wrong measure of success was applied the project was in danger of going off-target. It's in the story of Joseph when he sold by his brothers and ends up in Egypt that he comes across Potiphar's wife. Rashi explains that the story of her attempt to seduce Joseph is next to the story of Judah and Tamar to indicate that they were both acting for the sake of Heaven.

Potiphar's wife was acting for the sake of Heaven? My first impression on coming across this bit of information was incredulity followed by curiosity. Anyway, Rashi goes on to explain the verse

“And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph” ( Genesis 39:7)
Why does the Torah adjoin the incident of Potiphar's wife to the incident of Tamar? To tell us that just as Tamar acted for the sake of Heaven, so did Potiphar's wife act for the sake of Heaven. For she saw through her astrologers that she was destined to produce children from him. But she did not know whether through herself or through her daughter (Joseph married Potiphar's daughter, as per Genesis 41:45)

Potiphar's wife had the expectation set by astrologers that her line would continue through Joseph. However, she mistakenly assumed that it would be through her and hence was only focused on one measure of success. Namely how likely it was that Joseph would sleep with her. She tried to entrap him, it failed and she ended up accusing him of attempting to rape her. In the end Potiphar chose not to sentence his servant to death but rather imprison him as he was not wholly convinced of his wife's accusation and his daughter pleaded Joseph's innocence.

So back to my daily meditation to gain Wisdom. Last week my ears started ringing and it sounded like I could hear distant conversation. This got me rather excited as I though that perhaps I was developing some form of remote listening ability or perhaps hearing the voices on the other side of the Heavenly curtain. It turns out though that the ringing in my ears was due to having cleaned them too vigorously with cotton buds and after a few days my hearing was back to normal.

Anyway, lesson learnt is that whilst it is good to reflect and check progress of a working. Making assumptions about the route to success or setting too defined limits on the form in which success can manifest is silly at best and dangerous at worst.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Risk management of Ghosts


The other night I was pottering around the house when I heard a woman call my name from upstairs. Thinking that it was my wife I made my way upstairs to speak to her only to remember halfway up the stairs that she was out running errands. My pace slowed, I peeked around the door frame and when a cold chill went down my spine – I ran back down the stairs as fast as my legs could carry me.

Immediately my mind went in to overdrive. Was it a ghost? Was it a heavenly voice? Was it a voice in my head due to lack of sleep?

Putting on my project manager hat I scanned my bookshelf for inspiration and started drawing up a plan of action. The first thing was to define the problem domain, in other words to work out what the origin of the voice was so the problem could be resolved. Next to do a risk assessment on dealing with the uninvited manifestation of the female voice and then to take action!

So cracking open my copy of Rabbi Dennis’ excellent “Jewish Myths, Magic and Mysticism” I looked up the entries for ghosts, heavenly voices and other likely causes. I had a flick through Chajes’ “Between Worlds”; however since I’ve only read the opening chapters I was unsure of whether it contained any practical details for conducting an exorcism. Then booting up my computer, I looked up the definitions of RISKS from the Project Management body of knowledge and put together a risk register.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (3rd edition) PMBOK

Risk. An uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has appositive or negative effect on a project’s objectives. See also risk category and risk breakdown structure.

Here is an example of one of the risks captured the risk register in response to the (possibly) ghostly encounter.

Statement of Fact: Heard a incorporeal female voice
Risk: Could be a ghost
Probable Outcome: Could have a haunting related to an object or location.
Mitigation: If related to an object, then destroy the item. If related to a place, then may need to do an exorcism.

Well, as you can imagine at this point my fear of the ghostly encounter was fading fast as I started documenting risks and trying to come up with a plan. Rabbi Dennis’ book had helped provide more information and hence give more detail to the potential problem domain. The risk register was starting to look quite promising with various mitigation strategies being worked out.


After a couple of hours of analysis and planning I’d mapped out a mini-project to help deal with this uninvited manifestation of a female voice and was getting ready to cautiously make my way back upstairs with some salt and iron (thanks Supernatural). Unfortunately as they say “no plan survives contact with the enemy” and before I could action a single risk mitigation in my carefully crafted plan, my wife came home and went upstairs.

Creeping slowly up the stairs after her I mentioned hearing a voice call my name and she promptly laughed it off. Since any occultist worth her salt will tell you that laughter is amongst the most powerful forms of exorcisms - I realized that my wife had just solved the problem for me. I went to bed that night safe in the knowledge that combining good project management practice, occult knowledge and an unintended joke that all problems can be overcome whether natural or otherwise.

Plus I now have another chapter in my electronic grimoire called: “Ghosts, how to manage haunting within the framework of project management best practices and psychic defense”.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Failure Demons


Many years ago I was in an interview to do a Master’s degree course and suddenly the interviewer asked me: “Are you driven by a fear of failure?”

I stammered “no” and explained how I was motivated by getting positive results rather than fear of failure. But all the while there was a voice screaming in my head “YES! DAMMIT I LIVE IN FEAR OF FAILURE ALL THE TIME!” Surprisingly the University did offer me a place on their degree course. I declined and went to study at another University which offered a course curriculum that I knew to be one of the hardest in the country.

After the hardest year of studying my life, I passed the Master’s and vowed never to study anything ever again whether for a certificate or for the fun of it. Some years later I sat a Project Management accreditation exam and I’ve spent a large period of time between my Master’s and now reading books on Kabbalah.

So why do I continue to challenge myself and choose to study a topic (i.e. Kabbalah) that is both obscure and arguably not very practical in everyday life? Well, fear of failure of course. It’s the engine that motivates me to get out of bed in the morning, achieve well at work and work towards gaining seemingly supernatural powers to make the world a better place. If something is worth doing and it’s worth doing well – then it’s my fear of failure that carries me kicking and screaming over the finish line.

One area that I randomly chose to start improving is writing comedy. Having no previous knowledge or experience I bought a book and read a couple of chapters. In the “The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You're Not “ by John Vorhaus - the author mentions that being funny is a hit and miss game with an expected success rate of 10%. That made me take pause and consider whether I did indeed want to carry on trying to learn how to be funny if my success rate is so low. Just as I was about to put down the book a little voice in my head shouted: “DANGER! DANGER! IMMINENT FAILURE DETECTED!”

Having taken a day to think about – I’m reminded about how I learned things as a child. It was all about trial and error. Failure back then just meant trying again with the worst outcome being a nose bleed. So at what stage did it stop being acceptable to fail? I think that the answer is at school where it was not acceptable to fail exams. This was reinforced at University and failure at work can lead to a very short career.

So would it surprise you to know that upwards of 70% of projects are considered failures? Well that is the world that a Project Manager operates in. Failure is abhorrent and yet seemingly all around. Hence today I’ve decided to take a stand and return to the playful mentality of years past to say that the best way to learn is through trial and error (within safe parameters).

That’s not to say that it’s all a game as projects are business critical and can make or break businesses. In the realm of magic – such things as summoning and exorcisms are not games either as the results of failure can be catastrophic. Rather continuous learning is about looking back frequently at small mistakes and using lessons learnt to improve next time.

My mind is teeming with new ideas and theories, but I almost never try them out. My recent endeavour to do a 40 day meditation to acquire Wisdom is my most daring in three years! Gaining wisdom, where’s the risk in that? Well, it’s not so much the risk but rather the fear of failure. What happens if it does not work? What happens if it works too well? What if… What if… Argh! “DANGER! DANGER! “

OK, I must remember the 10% rule of success.  If it works at least 10% of the time and the consequences of failure are not catastrophic then it is worth trying. The demon of Fear of Failure does not need to be exorcised or destroyed. It just needs some time out to learn with me that trial and error is OK.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Saying: "I Don't know"


Sorry, I Don’t Know

Runesoup has an excellent article about giving magical advice. My experience to date has fortunately been more along the lines of people asking me where they can find out more about particular topics, rather than giving advice on how to overcome a particular problem.

One example of people asking me for further information is: are there any links between creating a zombie and building a golem. That question still has me stumped but having re-read some parts of Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis’s excellent book: Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism – I may have found another source to research this topic further.

A little knowledge

The reason for this particular example is that my standard response is: “I don’t know”. Most people are familiar with the expression: ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. I’d like to amend that expression with regards to giving magical advice (and advice in general) to: ‘a little knowledge as the basis for giving advice is a dangerous thing’.

I’m not trying to belittle anyone, there are plenty of people that I have regular interaction with whose knowledge and experience dwarfs mine. Literally I feel an inch tall next to these people and at best I’m in the category of a donkey carrying books – i.e. having sufficient knowledge to refer to sources, but that’s it.

Self-Sufficiency

So if giving advice on what actions to take is not something to be promoted, how should one help when asked for advice? My answer is to provide people with the tools that they need to figure it out for themselves. This is in part my motivation for posting articles on how project management knowledge and skills can help with magical work and development.

The tools themselves are a very broad subject that ranges from “good practices from lessons learned”, to structured techniques such as risk analysis and work breakdown structures, all the way to soft skills of people management and emotional intelligence. Asking for help is a sign of professional maturity in my line of work, it demonstrates a desire to learn and improve and be able to work it out for one’s self in future.

Lesson Learnt: giving advice can be detrimental. Help someone with continuous learning and development so that they can learn figure it out for themselves.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Project Management & Magic: Choosing the right Process


Having established that magical workings and projects are temporary endeavours undertaken to create a unique product, service or result – let’s look at different ways of achieving them. One thing to note is that a distinction needs to be drawn between magical techniques and worldviews or belief systems.

An example of two magical techniques is where one is improvised on the spot and another involves an elaborate ritual that requires months of planning. Both approaches might be used by say a druid, a Solomnic magician and a cabbalist even though their worldviews and belief systems may differ quite a bit.

So in terms of projects a good Project Manager will use a toolbox of processes as required for any particular project. Some organizations are more supportive of process being tailored for each project whilst others insist that the same project processes are used for each project even if they are not suitable such as not scaling well between tiny and huge projects.

The basics of Project Management (PM) as outlined in the PM Body Of Knowledge, (3rd edition, pp39):

3.1 Project Management Processes
…An underlying concept for interaction among project management processes is the plan-do-check-act (as defined by Shewart and modified by Demin, in ASQ Handbook, pages 13-14, American Society for Quality, 1999). This cycle is liked by results – the result from one part of the cycle becomes the input to another…

The PMBOK then goes on to elaborate on the slightly more complex process cycle of Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Control and Closing processes.

Plan-Do-Check-Act

So taking the plan-do-check-act as the simplest cycle, an example of use of this is something that I do fairly regularly when travelling on London Public transport. As most commuters will tell you that waiting for a bus during winter in London is no pleasant undertaking. Using the simple plan-do-check-act cycle I’ll "plan" to summon a bus, the “do” part is simply chanting ‘bus, bus, bus’ whilst visualizing the imminent arrival of a bus. The “check” part involves looking out for a bus and the “act” part is either choosing whether to wait a bit longer or deciding to walk to the next bus-stop if it's a better albeit slower way of keeping warm.

One word of caution is that if the ‘bus, bus, bus’ chant is used too often whilst waiting for a bus – you’re likely to get at three or more coming thundering past!

Waterfall

Another example of project process is the Waterfall model. This is a model that was previously popular in the software development world. It involves the requirement capture, design, implementation, testing and release being done in a serial manner. In other words, no implementation is done before design is completed and testing does not start before implementation is done. A magical equivalent is Abramelin in which there is a specific sequence of tasks that the initiate needs to do in a specific order. Whilst there are many who try to cut corners and reduce the time and effort for this working, this breaks the process. See Aaron Leitch’s blog comments on why it pays to do it right. 

Iterative

The next process to become popular addressed some of the key weaknesses of the Waterfall way of working. Iterative and Incremental development aimed to shorten the design-implement-test cycle and instead of it being done once – to have it repeated a number of times over the project lifecycle.
In magical terms what this may relate to is a repetition of a ritual in order to achieve a particular refinement. For example, a magician who wants to create an astral temple in which to carry out magical workings may start of by planning and carrying out a series of visualization meditations on constructing this temple in ever sharper focus and detail. Keeping a record of their activities and a dream diary, the initiate would plan each part, visualize it, dream about it and then make necessary adjustments thereby following the iterative process of working.

Extreme

At approximately the same time that Iterative ways of working were becoming more popular, Extreme Programming was also on the rise in some organizations:

Extreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology which is intended to improve software quality and responsiveness to changing customer requirements. As a type of agile software development it advocates frequent "releases" in short development cycles (timeboxing), which is intended to improve productivity and introduce checkpoints where new customer requirements can be adopted.

This way of working not only adapts to change very quickly, but it actually embraces change and incorporates it well. However, maintaining a level of discipline in this way of working is challenging and without regular feedback the project can quickly go off track.

So from a magical perspective this way of working is being constantly mindful of one’s environment and reacting accordingly with whatever magical practices are required. Rather than spending a lot of time researching (design) or doing complex rituals (implementation and testing), the initiate takes input from their environment (people and places) and responds as needed. No long term planning is done and development of techniques is done in the moment. It grows organically out of each situation the initiate finds themselves in.

Agile

The final project process to be discussed and the one that is rising in popularity in the software development world is Agile. This way of working incorporates the adaptability to changing requirements, frequent releases, simplicity, self-organizing teams and a sustainable way of working.

Rather than say implementing each level of a software stack one above the other until the full stack allows for phone calls to be made on a mobile, Agile takes use cases and scenarios that the customer wants and implements thin slices of vertical functionality. So the difference to the layer by layer approach is that in Agile a use case might be to make emergency calls and after the first few iterations that may be all that the software can do, no normal voice or data calls may be possible. However in future releases additional use cases and scenarios are implemented. In the layer by layer (cake) model each part of the software provides full support for voice, data, emergency calls, handovers, etc. But this complete solution would not be working until the very end of the project when it all gets integrated together.

An example of Agile working is a self-organizing group of initiates (is such a thing possible?) that have a vague high level plan for achieving a particular goal and meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to plan and put in to practice the details of the upcoming rituals and magical workings. As noted in a previous post completing the meditations in Sefer Yetzirah to achieve the level where an initiate can create a golem or turn lead in to gold takes three years. Agile would be a suitable way of managing the joint development of initiates to progress their meditations, demonstrate their abilities at letter combinations / permutations and understanding of the workings of creation, as well as review & adapt to changes in the initiates and their environments.

Having taken a whistle stop tour through several different software development processes and their potential applications in the field of magic, I hope that you have seen how different approaches have their advantages and limitations. From what I’ve read online and having spoken to folks at occult bookshops - some use processes that mirror Extreme programming, to those that work in a way very similar to the Waterfall process. For some workings more structure is better and for others not. Let experience and common sense be your faithful guides.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

How did I get to this place?


Last night my beloved and I were getting ready to go to sleep when she pointed at my book at said: “Why do you have interest in reading such things?” The book, whose introduction I'd just started reading, was “Beholders of Divine Secrets: Mysticism in the Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature” by Vita Daphna Arbel.

What my beloved was really asking was not just about this book in particular, but instead my general hobby (it's not an obsession, honest) with Kabbalah, mysticism, magic and the occult. My answer to that was not very satisfactory in that it could be summarized as “I'm just drawn to these things”. They're not something that many have an interest in; it's considered hidden knowledge by some; and well it's just cool really. Doesn't everyone think the same about this?

Apparently not.

Instead of giving a detailed story of how my interest and passion in this field developed, I'll instead outline three scenarios of possible events in my life and ask you to guess which one is true.

Scenario 1: Cue violins

Having grown up a rather socially awkward lad, a family member took an interest in guiding this boy's keen and curious mind. All manner of subjects were broached including those that some teenagers would shy away from in a group not of their peers. Library visits were encouraged to explore the arts and sciences, as well as long walks in countryside to get close to nature.

However, this relative had a darker side. Perhaps it was a mental illness or some twisted desire to see how far they could use their manipulative personality to influence and dominate such gullible a young person. After many tales from this relative of contact with angels and other spirits the young lad grew ever more curious to find out about the occult. Pressing his older relative for a genuine experience of this hidden world - he finally learnt that it had all been a ruse.

After much soul-searching and anger, the lad grew to be a man and decided that he would one day become an authority in this field. No man, woman or spirit would ever lead him astray for their own ends. Knowledge is power the man decided and with that power he would become free.

Scenario 2: Family spirits

The family has long had an interest in ghosts and contact with those who have passed on. It's never something spoken about in family gatherings, but if you know what to look for then the hints are all around. Simple things like the witch bottles in the toilet, the mirror on the landing with lions around the frame, a magic mirror with sigils accidentally dug up in the garden and the curious mix of herbs growing in the window-box.

Outings to meet new family friends seemed like a delightful experience at first. There's a new house to explore, garden to run around in and perhaps even pancakes. Some houses have funny smells from candles and damp walls with ancient pictures. Others are bright and airy with wind chimes by the windows and strange bees on the lawn that do not sting - which the large dog chases around and around.

Each time the coffee and sweets have been cleared away the children are shooed away to run and shout to their hearts content. The adults speak of serious things, voices touched by sorrow of family members now in heaven. But overhearing conversation standing in the kitchen doorway or half-way down the stairs the thread of conversation becomes hard to follow as relatives long gone are given a voice. The messages are passed to and fro with some tears and occasional laughter. Upon leaving one house the lady of the house declines to shake hands, she smiles sadly and says it's how she looks in to a person's past.

Scenario 3: Invocation Interrupted

Torn from his native soil and brought to a land in which he could not speak the language, the cultural shift widened the void in the boy's life rather than papering it over. Home ceased to be place and instead became a state a mind. One readily sought after but not one that was easy to achieve or maintain.

So a new family was sought to make up for the one left shattered in pieces, A stronger and broader family who supported and nurtured. Curiously it did not so much come in the shape of a family unit but rather a religious movement. Though the tenants and practises of faith seemed constraining to some, it's structure came a breath of fresh air and forged order where once life had been chaos.

However, the past lay unresolved and needed to be dealt with lest it rears its ugly head once again. Lacking the necessary skills to deal with this lurking chaos another strategy came to mind. That of using an invocation in a rare book to bring about a solution. But alas the incantation was interrupted and before there was time to arrange another attempt to repeat it the damage had been done. Instead of strengthening the existing order - it was shattered. With life spinning out of control, the decision was taken to return to that point again in future. This time with knowledge, understanding and a mountain load of preparation.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Project: 40 Days for Wisdom


Source: “Walking in the Fire: Classical Torah/Kabbalistic Meditations, Practises & Prayers” by HaRav Ariel Bar Tzadok. Rav of http://www.koshertorah.com/




SECTION 4: Prayers & Segulot
Segulah L’Hochmah
An Invocation for Wisdom from The Book of the Angel Raziel
“Recite this prayer seven times over a glass of water and then drink it. Repeat this for 40 days in a row.
Halakha (Law): Holy names and angelic names must never be spoken aloud. They should only be contemplated upon and recited silently. Warning! Violating this law can invoke angelic wrath and provoke a curse instead of a blessing.”

See the book quoted above for the translation (and transliteration) of the text from this portion of Sefer Raziel.

Scope: Use prayer for Chochmah / Wisdom to boost initiate
Time: 40 days, starting 13 November 2010 / 6 Kislev 5771
Cost: 1 glass of water per day, plus sufficient time for repetition of prayer 7 times per day
Quality: The success criterion for this project is a significant improvement in ability to understand of Chochmah / Wisdom. This is a subjective measure of success and findings at the end will indicate whether it worked or not.
Communication:
To Emenator: Daily prayer seven times a day over glass of water.
If time permits, blog updates on any noticeable changes during 40 day period.
Risks:
Fast on 17th of Tevet, must ensure that prayer time does not overlap with fast [ Probability: High, Impact: High]. If a day is missed, the procedure needs to be started anew.
Initiate may not be of sufficient receptivity to handle influx of Wisdom. [Probablity: Medium, Impact: High]. This can be mitigated by stopping the procedure if adverse affects manifest during the 40 days.
Procedure may not work. [Probability: Low, Impact: Hight]. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
May mispronounce name or lose count of prayers. [Probability: Low, Impact: High]. If count goes badly wrong then may need to start 40 days anew or may due to mis-pronounciation get unpredictable results.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Communication: Words have power


Words have Power
“Words have power” is an expression that many of us have heard. Those who are parents and reading this may be familiar with the pattern of behaviour in which anything relating to “sleep” and children is not mentioned in the same sentence – as this will result in the children waking up and the whole cycle of “trying to get them to sleep” starts over again. My own recent experience of words having power was telling someone that I went for an interview to refresh my interview skills; however I did actually want that job. I heard the next day that I did not get the job. Did my careless choice of words turn an interview that was good practice and one I wanted in to just good practice interview?
In this article we’ll examine the power of words from a Project Management, NLP and Kabbalistic point of view. Skip to the summary at the end if you just want to get the essence of this article.
The Project Management Part

There’s a LOT of information written about communication. How to be good at it, when to do it, whom to communicate with and what happens when communication breaks down. From a Kabbalistic perspective existence is based on Divine “sayings” that are continuously sustaining everything that was, is and will be. If this were to cease then everything that we know of would cease.

However, before we get too deep in to the Kabbalistic viewpoint of communication and speech let’s take a look at the Project Management side of things. Here is an extract from the excellent book by Peter Taylor called “The Lazy Project Manager” that show how to work in the most effective manner with the least effort.

The Lazy Project Manager (Peter Taylor), pp. 54
Communicate as others need you to communicate


This whole book is really about communication, but this part specifically covers communication. And lazy project managers will think very, very carefully about what they need to communicate and how they need to communicate it, and why they are communicating what they are communicating. The general guidance is that 70% of a project manager’s time will be spent in communicating. That’s 70%!

So we can see that from a Project Management point of view, one place that needs most effort (and where potentially most savings of effort can be made) is in communication.

Now let’s look at the Project Management Institute’s take on communication. It provides a definition of communication if that’s not of interest then please skip this next quote.



PMBoK (Project Management Body of Knowledge, 3rd ed, Chapter 10)


“…Communication skills are related to, but are not the same as, project management communications. The art of communications is a broad subject and involves a substantial body of knowledge including:
Sender-Receiver models. Feedback loops and barriers to communication.
Choice of Media. When to communicate in writing versus orally, when to write an informal memo versus a formal report, and when to communicate activities face-to-face versus email. The media chosen for communication activities will depend upon the situation.
Writing style. Active versus passive voice, sentence structure, and word choice.
Presentation techniques. Body language and design of visual aids. Meeting management techniques. Preparing an agenda and dealing with conflict…”

According to this definition communication comes in different forms, that it must be between two things/people and that how the message is conveyed as well as the media of transmission are important.

NLP

Let’s take look briefly at another discipline which focuses largely on communication. In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Representational Systems are defined as:

Representational systems (also known as sensory modalities and abbreviated to VAKOG or known as the 4-tuple) is a neuro-linguistic programming model that examines how the human mind processes information. It states that for practical purposes, information is (or can be treated as if) processed through the senses. Thus people say one talks to oneself (the auditory sense) even if no words are emitted, one makes pictures in one's head when thinking or dreaming (the visual sense), and one considers feelings in the body and emotions (known as the kinesthetic sense).


See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representational_systems_%28NLP%29
I’m no NLP expert but from what little I’ve read it seems that some people use words related about visual things, auditory things or kinesthetic things. For example “I see what you mean”, “That rings true”, or “I’m finding it hard to grasp what this article is about”.

Kabalistic Part

Having set out that communication is important in project success, defined means of communication and commented (via NLP briefly) on how people want to be communicated to – let’s take a look at how words and letters themselves can affect reality. This is the basic premise in Sefer Yetzirah that an initiate of sufficient practice and ability is able to reach a level of consciousness to be able to manipulate the world around them and do seemingly magical things.

A really good article on this topic can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/18011032/Creation-Through-Letters

JEWISH MYSTICS: USING LANGUAGE, TRANSCENDING LANGUAGE, BECOMING LANGUAGE
by Rachel Evelyne Barenblat
This is an extract from Rachel's Thesis, submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Religion at WILLIAMS COLLEGE, Williamstown, Massachusetts, April 24, 1996

Here is an extract from the end of this article:

The Sefer Yetzirah provides a way for the mystic to strive towards the Divine through the manipulation of Hebrew letters. Despite the fact that letters are the primary tool used to strive towards God, the mystic somehow enters into a nonverbal state of consciousness, in which letters lose their ordinary meaning. In this state of mystical consciousness, the raw power of the letters is released, and the mystic gains access to what is "really real" within the letters, which is their reality as divine emanation.



This book is not simply an explanatory text of the Kabbalistic school of Ma’aseh Bereishit (Workings of Creation), it is in fact a book use for meditation that an initiate can use to reach these levels of consciousness as outlined by Rachel Evelyne Barenblat and Rabbi Kaplan above. It is a grimoire if you will that transforms the initiate in to a person whose words can manipulate reality to create a golem, to create an astral body to explore the Heavenly realms, to turn lead in to gold and to perform all manner of seemingly magical things.


Summary

Project Managers spend a lot of their time on communication hence they - if they’re good PMs - choose how, when and in particular what to communicate very carefully. NLP shows us that when it comes to the how – if you’re not communicating using the words that they relate to then some or all of the message will be lost. Sefer Yetzirah comes along and shows how letters and words themselves are vehicles of Divine energy that shape reality. An initiate of sufficient ability and practice can use this to reshape reality.

So when communicating with others, it pays not only to be mindful of speaking in words that they relate to. But to also be mindful that those same words could be shaping your and their reality with unintended results due to a poor choice of words. I’ll leave you with a story of the Baal Shem Tov (see: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1208507/jewish/Biography.htm) that illustrates this point:

In one story, a quarrel erupted between two local men in the Baal Shem Tov's synagogue. In a fit of anger, one of them shouted, "I will tear you to pieces like a fish." The Baal Shem Tov instructed his students, who had all witnessed the altercation, to stand near him and close their eyes. Suddenly, the students shouted in terror, as they were shown a vision of the man at whom the non-serious threat was directed being dismembered. Thus, the Besht taught his student the powerful effect of words that, at times, can only be perceived in higher realms
.
This means that letters (and their combination in words) can directly influence the world around us. A really good book on this topic that I would recommend to anyone with a basic knowledge of Kabbalah and wants to delve a little deeper is Sefer Yetzirah, see Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s commentary and translation: http://www.amazon.com/Sefer-Yetzirah-Creation-Aryeh-Kaplan/dp/0877288550/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1289495717&sr=8-1

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Magic and Project Management


OK, so this is an experiment to see how much overlap there are between two domains of interest. The first of these interests being magic and the second being Project Management. Note: under the category of magic I include sorcery, witchcraft, shamanism, theurgy, and any similar topics that you’re likely to find in an occult bookshop.

So, what exactly is Project Management? Let’s start with a definition from the Project Management Institute (www.pmi.org) book: the Project Management Body of Knowledge.

 PMBOK (3rd ed) Chapter 1 Introduction
1.2.1 Project Characteristics
A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.
Sounds familiar to those who do magical workings? Let’s compare that to a definition of magic by some well known occultists.

Crowley defined magick as "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.
Magick in Theory and Practice, Book 3 of 4 by Aleister Crowley
Here are some more definitions: http://www.llewellyn.com/encyclopedia/term/Magick



So whilst it can be argued that every act can be magical, in practice based on my discussions with various practitioners there are some activities that are done on a regular basis and then there are some workings that are one-offs. The latter meet the criteria for project characteristics and these are the ones that we’ll focus on in the next set of articles.

So what distinguishes doing specific acts of magic or worship from things that an initiate does every day, week, cycle or year? Well, let’s consult with the PMI Body of Knowledge:

PMBOK (3rd ed) 1.2.2 Projects vs. Operational Work
Organizations perform work to achieve a set of objectives. Generally, work can be categorized as either projects or operations although the two sometimes overlap. They share many of the following characteristics:
  • Performed by people
  • Constrained by limited resources
  • Planned, executed, and controlled
Projects and operations differ primarily in that operations are ongoing and repetitive, while projects are temporary and unique.
The objective of projects and operations are fundamentally different. The purpose of a project is to attain its objective and then terminate. Conversely, the objective of an ongoing operation is to sustain the business. Projects are different because the project concludes when its specific objectives have been attained, while operations adopt a new set of objectives and the work continues.
To sum it up, those activities that are done repetitively are considered “business as usual”. Those that are supposed to produce a unique result (service or product) are considered to be projects.

This brings up the obvious question of: why is it worth the hassle learning about Project Management to be successful in magic? Well, to answer that let’s look one more time at the Project Management Body of Knowledge:
PMBOK (3rd ed) 1.3 What is Project Management?
Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. Project management is accomplished through the application and integration of project management processes of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. The project manager is the person responsible for accomplishing the project objectives.
Managing a project includes:
  • Identifying requirements
  • Establishing clear and achievable objectives
  • Balancing the competing demands for quality, scope, time, and cost
  • Adapting the specifications, plans and approach to the different concerns and expectations of the various stakeholders.
Here we can see that structure is emerging from the idea that some result is desired to help ensure that it’s done in a manner that will increase the chances of success. Some workings are very brief and make not require any initiating, planning, monitoring or closing and simply focus on execution. However, some larger workings could certainly benefit from a more structure approach. Particularly if it involves working with multiple people.

Now on to the question of why I’m bothering with expounding on how Project Management can help with magical practices? The answer it two-fold: as already outlined at the start I have an interest in both and regularly read books on my commute on each topic. The second reason is that Arbamelin is not the longest working that I am aware off, studying and mastering Sefer Yetirah to be able to create a golem** takes three years (at a minimum). Hence it’s prudent to invest some effort in to managing such an endeavour with tried and tested project management techniques to increase the chances of success.

 ** - A golem is a mystical anthropoid, a man-made creature whose mention is found as early as (approx 4th century C.E.) in talmudic passages, for example where two Amoraim create a calf to be eaten at their Sabbath meal and Rava produces a manlike creature which R. Zera indignantly returns to the dust (Sanh. 65b).

Friday, 5 November 2010

Migratory paths of Occult Books


My recent trip was a success and not a success. Stopped doing some meditation part-way through and ability to remember dreams decreased. On the other hand, did manage to read a bit more of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s “Inner Space” in digestible chunks which led to ruminations on water and spiritual realities. When I get the chance I shall have to re-read his very short but good “Waters of Eden” book.

Next up is bringing down my small library of books and deciding which get a spot on the new open bookshelf and which move to the cupboard upstairs. The decision making process for this is based along two lines: 1. which books are visitors not going to be too shocked to see on open shelves and 2. (more importantly) which authors are going to be more at home sharing a shelf with other authors.

On this second point, I read a story years ago about a Rabbi who moved some books around on his shelves after they had been in their previous positions for years. When one of his students asked him why he’d moved the books, the Rabbi replied that the souls of the authors of the books had finally set-aside their disagreements and hence would no longer be offended at their books being placed side by side.

This is the basis of cataloging of my books, of course going on the assumption that I know enough about the authors to guess whether they take offence at their relative positions on the shelves with other books. If any authors have strong views on this, then please leave me a comment or visit me in a dream. Sometimes books seemingly “migrate” across shelves as others are taken out for lending or reading. This has led to some interesting arrangements, but never to the extent that I’ve had to rush in and separate two books in the dimension of space.

This, however, leads to the interesting topic (in my opinion) about the migratory paths of books in Occult bookshops – especially those that buy and sell second hand books. Not only do the books have a migratory life in and out of the bookshop through the hands of numerous owners, but also within the bookshop itself. Whilst I have little knowledge of how books are classified and placed around the shop, as a browser it is interesting to note the small “shuffles” along a shelf or even leaps across from one classification to another.

If you know of an essay (or book) on “The Secret Life of Occult Books”, then please kindly point me to where this can be found. I’d be surprised if such an essay does not exist as some of this material was covered by morbidfrog at a Treadwells talk on occult books a couple of years ago. With the explosion of grimoires being published, there are sure to be plenty of amusing anecdotes with which to pepper such an essay.