Thursday, 13 January 2011

Starting a New Project: "Trainee Chariot Rider?"

Project: Understanding the Merkavah User Manual in 2000 pages or less has been an ongoing project to gain a greater understanding of the early Jewish mystics who were around from the time of the destruction of the second century up towards the 9th century. The literature is focused mainly on heavenly ascent and adjuration of angels.

Based on the challenge of reading 10 pages of academic literature per day, I should my goal of 2000 pages by June 2011. However, if the current rate of reading continues then I could be done by end of April.

Anyway, as part of my drive to do more practical things (last year was a bit of "a little more conversation a little less action please" year) I’ve been trying to think of how to do something more practical with this knowledge of Merkavah mysticism. Not feeling equipped yet to attempt to adjure an angel or make a heavenly ascent, I would like to pitch my next project at a more manageable and safer way of using this knowledge.

Having looked in a couple of places I was beginning to despair of finding any examples of modern uses of hechalot (heavenly palaces) & merkavah (fiery chariot as per Ezekiel’s vision) mysticism. That is until I saw this post by Prof. James Davila of the superb PaleoJudaica blog:


I would say yes, more or less. Simon Holloway discusses the question in The Silent Mind: A Jew’s Views on Meditation in Galus Australis. Excerpt [removed for brevity, please follow link above]

The Hekhalot texts to a large degree consist of instructions for ritual practices that promise to give the user access to and some control over the spiritual realm. This is pretty close to the generally accepted understanding of meditation as a mental or spiritual discipline. There is an influential school of modern scholarly thought that regards the Hekhalot texts as exegetical tractates rather than practical ones, but I think (and have argued extensively in print) that this is correct in what it asserts but wrong in what it denies. The Hekhalot literature, like all meditation traditions, is deeply rooted in exegesis of its native scriptures and mythologies, but it is also much concerned with spiritual ritual practices. For more on this and related issues, see my earlier posts here, here and here.

This made me realize that perhaps there was indeed a way to make use of this Merkavah knowledge in the form of meditation. But how? The sources used for my studies are based on academic literature, not the primary texts (which are out of my price range, see here for amazon price).

Thankfully that same night I looked up the only book of practical Kabbalah advice that I own and found a chapter dedicated to Merkavah meditation. Once again Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok (of came to the rescue with his phenomenal book: Walking in the Fire

Chapter 5: The Kavanot of the Merkava pp338-355

A Kabbalistic Meditation / Prayer to Unite the Holy Name Havaya with the Ten Sefirot. From the Writings of the Ari’zal, the Rashash And the Ben Ish Hai.

Now all I have do is turn this idea in to a project. To decide on the 3 project constraints (iron triangle):
  1. Scope
    • How much preparation is required
    • What success criteria might be used to measure success
  2. Time
    • When this meditation was going to be done
    • For what duration of dates this meditation would be done
  3. Cost
    • See if anything in addition needs to be purchased
    • Work out when in the week I’d have time for this meditation.

I guess you could say that project Trainee Chariot Rider has been initiated but it’s still in the early stages as I have yet to read up to and including Chapter 5 of this book.

The other thing that came out of this discovery is the talk I'd planned to create and present having read all this academic literature comparing Merkava mysticism to shamanism has been done - much better than I ever could have done - by Prof. James Davila already. The link can be found here: Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism