Whilst I’m in the midst of my rather extensive reading project, I like to reflect once in awhile to see how my magical career is progressing as a whole. So with that in mind I’ve decided that whilst gaining theoretical knowledge of the ancient school of Jewish mysticism called Ma’aseh Merkavah (work of chariot – based on the visions by the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah) is all well and good – it would be even better to get some practical experience.
Workings of Creation versus Workings of Chariot
However, getting a teacher in this area is rather tricky. As can be seen from this Mishnah below:
"One may not expound…the Work of Creation to more than one student [at a time]; the Work of the Chariot not even to one student - unless he is wise and can understand these matters by himself" (Mishnah Chagiga 2:1)So I have more chance of getting a teacher for the Work of Creation (Ma’aseh Bereishit) than one for the Work of the Chariot (Ma’aseh Merkavah). Which to be honest suits me just fine. Risk managing encounters with angels is a real pain and a cursory glance at biblical narratives of angelic encounters with humans does not really give it much appeal.
I’m not talking about angels in the shape of cute small children with wings as found in paintings make for the Christian church, but rather beings of fire in the Tanach whom midrashic legend paints as quite hostile to humans.
Books, plants, Graves and Fire in dreams
If you do happen to summon an angelic (or other being) for advice in a dream, here is an excerpt from the excellent book by Rebecca Lesses called: “Ritual Practices to Gain Power: Angels, Incantations, and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism” where she talks about the oxford manuscript that relates to the “Binding of Ragshi’el”: pp. 248-9
“…The manuscript reveals additional details about how the Hekhalot tridents thoughts about dreams. While the dreamer in MS New York receives an answer to his question either by symbolic means or direct discourse, in this manuscript he asks not only for a “sign or a wonder or a verse,” but also requests that particular items appear in the dream as signs of positive or negative answers to the question. In this way, the angel can fulfill the dreamer’s request to see “a dream whose interpretation I will know when I rise from sleep.” As before positive signs are “open books and gardens and delicacies,” while negative signs are “graves and bones.” Most of these items seem self-explanatory, although mention of “open books” deserves further explanation; it stems from the respect for book-learning and scholarship in Jewish society in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. The Greek dream-revelation adjurations from late antiquity also employ the same technique, but mention different signs for positive or negative answers. One of them reads, for example: “Reveal to me concerning the NN matter. If yes, show me a plant and water, but if no, fire and iron.” …”Anyway, whilst dream questions are a fascinating subject I know next to nothing about it. Hence I’m merrily dancing in to another domain of ignorance – namely more practical things to be done in the school of Ma’aseh Bereishit (Work of Creation).
Memorization of Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation)
Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation) is the oldest book in Jewish mysticism / Kabbalah and the basis of the school of Ma’aseh Bereishit (Work of Creation). If you’ve not read the translation and commentary by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and have referred to yourself as a Kabbalist in the past – well, not wishing to mince words - I’d recommend that you go out, buy and read this book with all due haste. It is one of the most important books in Jewish mystic / Kabbalah. Arguably it is THE most important book.
Anyway, taking inspiration from a Kabbalist by the name of Rabbi Joseph Karo - he had an angelic messenger who would speak to him and this was recorded in writing by other kabbalists of his era. This angelic messenger (called a Maggid) was the personification of the Oral Law (Mishnah) that Rabbi Karo would repeat (Mishnah literally means repetition).
So as a stepping stone to better understanding Sefer Yetzirah, I’ve started a project to memorize the first chapter. I’m not hoping for a Maggid to pop up and start teaching me, but rather to gain a better understanding of the text and to be able to do meditative exercises based off the text without needing to crack open a copy of the book.