Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Unpacking Text, Context and Translation

This is a post that follows on from my previous post about Unpackaging ideas. The two points that I would like to make are:
  1. Unpacking ideas is done via context, the context of the text, the author(s) and your context
  2. Unpacking ideas that have been translated add to them the context of the translator(s)

When studying a text, it is very important to understand the context of that text. A word only has a specific meaning in relation to the rest of the sentence, paragraph or text. The word by itself can have multiple meanings. Changing context of a meaning is often a means to generate humour.

For example, an American and an English farmer are talking about driving around their fields. The English farmer says:

“I get in my car, drive 5 minutes and reach the end of my field.”

The American farmer says:

“That's nothing! I get in my car, drive along my field… And drive… And drive some more. Eventually after an hour I get to the end of my field”.

To which the English farmer replies:

“I used to have a car like that too!”

My apologies in advance for explaining the joke but… you might at first think that the American farmer is describing how large his field it, that it takes an hour to get from one end to the other. The English farmer misunderstands and thinks that the car is just really rubbish, that it does a 5 minute journey in 1 hour.

The important things to take away from this example are two things:

  1. The words field, car, American, English, farmer all make sense within the context, in a different context they could have a very different meaning.
  2. You interpreted what the text was describing in a specific way.

There is also a third context in the joke that of the joke’s author.

As explained in The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You're Not by John Vorhaus, humour relies on Truth and Pain. If you cannot comprehend the truth of a situation or the source of pain, then you are unlikely to find the joke funny. Next time you encounter a joke that you don’t laugh at, consider what part of the truth or pain that the joke derives from is something that you do not agree with.

Anyway, getting back to the main topic. The important thing when studying a text is to (1) consider the context of the text, (2) consider the context of the author(s) and (3) consider yourself.

Ask these questions:
  1. What age did the author(s) live in? What were their circumstances? What influenced their ways of thinking? What political, religious, etc ideologies did they ascribe to and which might they have opposed?
  2. Now ask the same question as in 1. Above but apply it to yourself.

By being able to take a step back and look at the context of the text, author and your self – you can get a better understanding of what messages the text is trying to convey.

If on the other hand you ignore one or more of these contexts, you run the risk of misinterpreting the messages within the text and in the worst case scenario coming to a conclusion that is either opposite to the intended or one that is nonsensical.

Final thought… Having considered the argument above about taking note of the context of a text, the author(s) and the reader (i.e. you)… What do you think are the impacts of this on the context when you read a translated text?

New Year Challenge – Bold Ideas

My wife sent me this amazing article from the Cardozo Academy New Year message. What New Year you may ask? It’s almost Rosh Hashanah; one of a number of new year’s celebrated in the Jewish calendar.

Here is an excerpt from the article that I believe applies not only to education within mainstream Judaism but to spiritual development paths in general:

What today’s Judaism is desperately in need of is great critics who could fructify and energize its great message. It needs spiritual Einsteins, Freuds and Pasteurs who could show its untapped possibilities and still undeveloped grandeur.

Judaism should be challenged by new Spinozas and Nietzsches; by remorseless atheists who would scare the hell out of our rabbis who would then be forced into thinking bold ideas.

The time has come to deal with the real issues and not hide behind excuses which ultimately will turn Judaism into a sham. Our thinking is behind the times, and that is something that we can no longer afford. This is the great challenge with which Rosh Hashanah confronts us. Judaism is about bold ideas. Its goal is not to find the truth, but to inspire us to honestly search for it. Torah study is not only the greatest undertaking there is, but also the most dangerous, since it can so easily lead to self-satisfaction and spiritual conceit. The leashing of our souls is easier than the building of our spirit.

The article does not advocate throwing away the baby with the bathwater, but rather to step out of what has become constrained ways of thinking. There is a trend that I have observed at a local and global level to increase conformity of thought in religious groups and non-religious groups. For example, it seems that bail-outs are the only approved method of dealing with the debt crisis and no one is willing to make bold moves to get the Euro crisis out of the intensive care unit and back to the recovery rooms.

As a child I was taught to question, question and question some more. In my late teens this led me on my first journey in to the deeper spiritual side of my faith but at the time I did not have the maturity to properly integrate and make use of those ideas. Fast forward some time to the present and my circumstances are such that I can now integrate that knowledge. That desire to question, question and question some more is something that I’ve never let go off. Hence why the article linked above has so much appeal to me.

I think that the same idea can be carried over in to the world of esoteric research and practice. In other words, it’s time for some bold ideas that challenge the status quo. So much time is wasted arguing over how to interpret grimoires or whether transmission from Hidden Masters is ongoing or not – that great opportunities to advance our understanding through practical application of techniques are being lost.

Not sure why I added this except that I like the picture

Pheonix Angel recently posted about trying to figure out what role an engineer has in the esoteric community. I put forward my view that her role is a vital one, that being to advocate bold new ideas, test them and enrich the community.

Will we pass on group of traditions to the next generations that have grown in this time? Or will it be a group of traditions that have been carefully categorized, analyzed, curated and preserved in Formaldehyde?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Lion Has Roared: Match 3

It's been a buy week and I've not had much time to think about and prepare for the match between the Detroit Lions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit_Lions) and the Minnesota Vikings (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Vikings).

On Thursday something happened that made me feel quite fearful for the outcome of the match. So I fasted for over half a day and tried to find a different interpretation to the name of the Minnesota Vikings to the one that I'd come up with earlier in the week.

You see, I took the name Minnesota Vikings and tried to break it down to see what it might mean in Hebrew. The word “Sota” refers to a woman who is suspected of being a wayward wife (see Numbers 5: 11-31). In the Torah it refers to a woman who has been warned by her husband and then been secluded with another man (during which extra-marital relations may have taken place).

What happens is that the woman is taken to the Kohen (priest) and asked to confess, if she refuses her hair is cut. If she refuses to confess again she is made to drink water mixed with soil from the Temple ground combined with a curse from a scroll: (Numbers 5:23) “The Kohen shall inscribe these curses on a scroll and erase it into bitter waters.”

If she is guilty... (Numbers 5:27) “He shall cause her to drink the water, and it shall be that had become defiled and had committed treachery against her husband, the waters cause curse shall come into her for bitterness, and her stomach shall be distended and her thigh shall collapse, and the woman shall become a curse amidst her people”.

In other words, this is a supernatural (outside the normal laws of nature and only such lethal punishment in Scripture) that causes her and the man she committed adultery with to both have their private parts swell up and kill them.

If on the other hand she is innocent, then she is blessed and will conceive a child. (Numbers 5:28) “But if the woman has not become defiled, and she is pure, then she shall be proven innocent and she shall bear seed.”

Now back to the name of the team Minnesota Vikings. As explained above, “sota” refers to a woman who is suspected of having an extramarital affair. “Min” means 'from'.

For Vikings I was a bit stuck. They struck me as the kind of people who might not be so civil if they were secluded with a person's wife. So I thought that perhaps the name could be twisted to mean: “wayward woman secluded with randy Norse-man”.

Anyway, the pre-match meditation that I did to support the Detroit Lions was as follows:
  1. Simple letter meditation (based on Abulafia technique)
  2. Followed by other simple Hebrew letters meditation
  3. Angel Meditation (Creating harmony between the four elements) from “Eye to the Infinite”
  4. Studied Numbers 5:11-31
  5. I thought to recite some Psalms next. When I opened the Tanach to the Book of Daniel 3:13-30 which relates the miraculous survival of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in the furnace having been thrown in there by the command of Nebuchadnezzar; I studied that instead.

At the time of writing this blog entry, the Detroit Lions are 20-0 down. Perhaps they will be saved from the fire of a shameful defeat. Then again, perhaps the Norse-men have not been wayward and will be blessed with success.

There is one more thing I'm going to do to try to save the day, elevating joy in my home.

Edit: Final score Lions 26 - Vikings 23 (http://www.nfl.com/scores/2011/REG3). Which to me shows the power of joy, that the Vikings are far from wayward and that one should not rely on miracles to be saved from the fire - but to be immensely grateful when it does happen.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Unpackaging Ideas, Context and Lectures

Unpackaging Scripture
Last weekend I attended a lecture on scripture (Tanach). The lecture was specifically on the story of King David and his relationship with Batsheva. The Rabbi giving the lecture talked about the different levels of interpretation from Talmudic, medieval to modern day commentators.

The point that the Rabbi was trying to make the in the lecture was that as well as the written tradition (Tanach), there is also an oral tradition (Talmud and later commentators) that are needed to “unpackage” the ideas and context in which they took place.

For example, various commentators have pointed out that in biblical times it was understood that ‘a thousand men’ means ‘many people’ and ‘ten generations’ means ‘forever’.

Physics Example
Rather than trying to recreate the lecture, I’ll re-use the example from the lecture that was used to illustrate the point about “unpackaging of ideas”.
E = MC2

Hopefully you recognize this formula. It's Albert Einstein’s Mass–energy equivalence. Now I’m not an expert in the area of Physics. My teacher refused to teach me A-level physics and there ended my dreams of working in the field of robotics.

Contained within Mass–energy equivalence formula are a lot of ideas and concepts. For example, it has been used to explain the origin of energy in nuclear processes but actually what it allows you to do is measure how much mass is lost in such reactions.

However, when you dig a little deeper you learn that only a very small amount of mass is converted in to energy:

“In nuclear reactions, typically only a small fraction of the total mass–energy of the bomb is converted into heat, light, radiation and motion, which are "active" forms which can be used. When an atom fissions, it loses only about 0.1% of its mass (which escapes from the system and does not disappear), and in a bomb or reactor not all the atoms can fission. In a fission based atomic bomb, the efficiency is only 40%, so only 40% of the fissionable atoms actually fission, and only 0.04% of the total mass appears as energy in the end.”

So starting with the relatively simple formula we’ve (hopefully) come to an understanding that when applied to nuclear reactions, the idea unpackages to explain that mass-energy converted to heat, light, radiation and motion can be measured and that only a very small percentage of mass is converted.

Kabbalistic Symbolism
Now we come on to the bit that I’ve been struggling with recently. First of all I’ve been reading about the concepts of Partzuf, Tzimtzim and Adam Kadmon in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s brilliant book: “Inner Space”.

Whilst skim reading would give me a cursory understanding of these concepts, actually unpackaging the ideas and internalizing their meaning is proving to be a very challenging task. Meditation on concepts allows a person to understand them at both a rational and psychic-intuitive level. But figuring out how these ideas can overlay my perception of reality is a whole other step.

The second issue that I’ve been struggling with is how to write a lecture on Merkavah mysticism - such that the context, concepts and research are unpackaged in the most appropriate way for the target audience.

Conenctions to other recent Blog posts
Gordon recently posted about going on a museum tour and reminded me why I get frustrated by tour guides unwillingness or inability to unpackage the context and ideas in historical objects. Yes, you guessed it I’m one of those people who asks the annoying questions that make guides either give an impromptu lecture in great detail or get annoyed and hurry the tour along even quicker.

Rufus Opus is giving a giving a lecture at the Crucible. It’ll be interesting to see in his post-lecture write-up how he dealt with unpackaging the concepts in his lecture for the target audience. Also how much time he spent on clarifying terminology.

Jason at Strategic Sorcery has been discussing the uses and meaning of the words Magic which I’ve been reading through the lens of unpackaging of terminology. Like the E = MC2 formula the word Magic on the surface is quite simple, but when you start to unpackage it and refer to it in specific context, historical time/location, schools of thought etc it suddenly becomes an Aladdin’s cave of meanings.

Claim token

This is a claim token: DJWJP4G7TT96.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Lion Has Roared: Match 2

Here is a brief summary of my meditation in preparation of the Detroit Lions match versus the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Couldn't find anything useful to do with the name of Kansas City Chiefs when it was translated in to Hebrew. Chose not to weaken the opposing team.
  • Instead decided to focus on strengthening the Lions during this home match.
  • Meditation involved: 
  •  Got interrupted towards the end of scripture studying. Finished with a walking meditation that involved a bit of unstructured visual meditation (lions rampaging to victory).
 I'll edit this post when the match is finished. EDIT: Final score Lions 48 - Chiefs 3.

    Wednesday, 14 September 2011

    Depression, Joy and Dancing

    In one of the places where I pray on a fairly regular basis, dancing during the service happens about once a week. This normally happens at a specific part of the prayer service and in the past I've had difficulty joining in as I find just getting up and leaping on the dance floor (so to speak) is not something that comes easily.

    Anyway, whilst re-reading a part of “Meditation and Kabbalah” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (pp.226) on the writings from the Ari – I came across the following quote about depression:
    “...(These are the qualities that a person must cultivate in order to attain enlightenment.)
    When a person prays, studies Torah, or observes a Commandment, he must be happy and joyful, He must have more pleasure than if he had reaped a great profit or had found a thousand gold coins...
    The trait of sadness is a very bad quality, especially for one who wishes to attain Ruach HaKodesh. There is nothing that can prevent enlightenment more than depression, even for those who are worthy. We find evidence for this from the verse: 'And now bring a minstrel, and when the minstrel played, the hand of God came upon him' (2 Kings 3:15). [The music was needed to dispel his sadness]. The same is true of anger, which can prevent enlightenment completely...
    The sages thus teach, 'If a person becomes angry, if he is a prophet, his prophecy is taken away'...”
    Reading that left me with the question: what happens if I'm not in the mood to be joyful? How do I deal with such a situation? I know that anger can often be countered by feelings of pity, however what is useful to turn sadness in to joy?

    I found the answer to these questions in "Strife of the Spirit" by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
    “The festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) is referred to by a number of names in the Jewish sources, but no epithet seems to reflect its essence as much as the that given in the prayerbook: 'The time of our rejoicing'... How can a specific date in the calendar be set aside for rejoicing? How can one obey an injunction to rejoice on a certain day, irrespective of one's mood or condition?...
    The commandment to rejoice on Sukkot is in fact just one of a number of obligations that concern one's mood. The Jewish calendar designates days of contemplation, of mourning, and of joy...
    The ability to rejoice on a preassigned day derives from self-discipline, which is an integral part of the religious life and an essential characteristic of the religious Jew... “
    Rabbi Steinsaltz goes in to more detail about internalization of values and demands, that a person cannot rely on being spontaneous and finishes with the following:
    “...Many Jewish sages have noted that the two Hebrew words emunah (faith) and emun (training) are derived from the same root, and they have interpreted this as showing that the soul must train itself in order to be capable of achieving meaningful religious experience. This need for training, however, does not mean that there is no place for spontaneous religious experience, but rather that such spontaneous experience by itself cannot server as the basis for religious life...”
    In short, as Rufus Opus posted recently the main this is to practice again and again. "It takes practice to get good at it."

    Besides, I figure that dancing involves physical exercise which I've found is always good for lifting my mood. So the simple way that I plan to practice feeling joy in the coming weeks (in preparation for Sukkot) is to dance once a week during prayers.

    Monday, 12 September 2011

    A Lion Has Roared: Match 1

    Yesterday was the first game of the NFL season with my new favourite team the Detroit Lions playing away against Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Using Google Translate to come up with the Hebrew for Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it came up with the following: טמפה ביי שודד ים (Letters are: tet-mem-peh-heh bet-yud-yud shin-dalet-vav-dalet yud-mem)

    According to Klein’s dictionary the word Shoded (Shin-dalet-vav-dalet) means:
    Adj. 1 devastated, destroyed, ruined, 2 slain 3 MH broken, depressed 
    MH stands for Medieval Hebrew. The word shin-dalet-vav-dalet is used in Psalm 137.

    Looking at the name “Buccaneer” in Hebrew - I saw that contained the seeds of the team’s undoing. In other words the same word that gave the team an identity and strength also could be turned to mean that the team’s spirit be broken. I aware that this reasoning is probably not coming across well, but this was an intuitive connection that I made rather than one on cold logic.

    So here is what I did in preparation for the match (approximately 1 hour):
    • Preparatory meditation from Book of Self Creation 
    • Toning and tuning the body meditation from Book of Self Creation 
    • Simple Abulafia letter meditation as described in Abraham Abulafia: Meditations on the Divine Name 
    • Studied scripture (Tanach – Samuel 1 chapters 7-9)
    • Recited prayer: Psalms 138-128, (chose 138 as starter since 137 contains word “Sh-du-dah”, same root as word shin-dalet-dalet), reversing order of Psalms connected to next step 
    • On paper and in imagination removed letters of the name of Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Hebrew, taking away one letter each time. This was connected to breaking the team’s strength so that even if the Lions were behind in the first part of the match – they would gain momentum and win the match (as long as they did not mess up towards the end). 
    • Studied Jewish law: Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (laws of blessings on food, no special significance) 

    I had a painful headache later in the evening. Not sure if it was related to this or  lack of sleep.

    Anyway, if you ask me whether the above had any influence or effect in the outcome of the match my honest answer is “I have no idea”. Studying scripture, law and reciting Psalms all have merit. If praying and studying before a match becomes part of my business as usual this is certainly a good thing in my opinion.

    I looked up the result on Sunday night. The outcome of the match was Detroit Lions 27 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20.

    Thursday, 8 September 2011

    Strife: A Motivator for Change

    Frater Serpentis et Aquila of The Hermit’s Lantern recently posted on the topic of Magic is Sacrifice.

    This is a rather timely post for me since it’s now the Hebrew month of Ellul. That means that the run-up to the festival Rosh Hashanah (New Year) has started in earnest. It’s not a time of wild celebration but rather one of introspection and making peace with one’s fellow mankind and Creator.

    It’s at this time of year that I dust off my copy of “Strife of the Spirit” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and re-read his excellent essays in that book, examine how my life has changed in the past year and apply what I have learned and internalize what changes I need to make for the coming year. In particular his opening essay, that has the same name as the book, resonates strongly. Its message in tweet form is: Peace of mind is not the end goal; strife of the spirit is what makes us strive to better ourselves.

    Here is an extract about peace of mind (“Strife of the Spirit”, A Steinsaltz pp4):
    “…Here is a truth with with applicability, be it in the international or interpersonal realm, or in the life of the individual soul. Peace with no content, meaningless tranquility, rest without sanctity – all are empty vessels. At best, the emptiness is soon filled with positive content. In all too many cases, however, the empty vessel becomes a repository for whatever comes along. In the absence of anything else, rubbish and abomination can fill the void. It is the same with empty peace of mind: tension and pressure seem to be gone, but nothing positive comes to take their place. A vacuum results, an existence devoid of effort or thought, which is in no sense better than what preceded it…” 
    Rabi Steinsaltz asks later on in his essay whether there is an alternative to strife of the spirit and his answer is that for most of us there is no alternative. Some fortunate souls are able to bring opposing forces in their soul in to harmony due to natural talent but those people do not have the potential to achieve the great heights of those who have to genuinely struggle with all their being at whatever circumstance and level they start off at.

    Rabbi Steinsaltz finished his essay with (“Strife of the Spirit”, A Steinsaltz pp8):
    “…At whatever level man struggles, there will his consciousness be involved. What differentiates the saint from the lowly creature of instinct, cunning, and cruelty is not the life-tension within him but the level at which his conscious being joins the struggle he must wage for survival. The choice between good and evil is preceded by an even more fundamental choice: whether to give spiritual or moral expression to the contradiction inherent in one’s humanness or try to ignore that contradiction. Difficulty, tension, bitterness and pain, are to be found as much in the ash heap as in the heavens. Each human being must decide where to take his stand and fight his battle…” 
    Having spent many years in the pursuit of peace of mind, I finally had to admit that it was worthless when I read this essay for the first time. However, putting aside the last vestiges of that quest for peace of mind has not been easy. At least I’ve moved on beyond the first step of recognizing that strife of the spirit necessitates changes in where my effort and will are focused in my day to day life.

    Tuesday, 6 September 2011

    Link to online resources for the study of Jewish magic

    Rebecca Macy Lesses** at Mystical Politics has posted some online resources for the study of Jewish magic and information about her course on Jewish magic this semester. Of particular interest to me was that Joshua Trachtenberg's "Jewish Magic and Superstition" is now available online (See second link above).

    ** - Author of  Ritual Practices to Gain Power: Angels, Incantations, and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticis. Probably the most 'practically focused' of sources in English on how Merkavah and Hechalot rituals work.

    Friday, 2 September 2011

    Spirits, HGA, Fevers, Stomach Ache and Who Is For Real?

    As mentioned in a previous post, there’s been some discussion in the blogosphere about HGA and other entities. Mostly it’s been very educational. Since I know about as much about spirits as I do about molecular biology, please take anything I say on this subject with a big pinch of salt.

    Having qualified my level f ignorance, I’d like to bring up an interesting synchronicity in some other blogs that I read. The question that the blogger asked was; how can you tell the difference between a Torah sage and a Kabbalist?

    A Torah sage is someone learned in esoteric Jewish texts and commentaries. This includes the Torah (Five Books of Moses), Nach (Prophets and Writings), Talmud (Oral law consisting of Mishnah and Gemarra), Halachah (Jewish Law).

    A Kabbalist is someone learned in esoteric Jewish knowledge. Often the interest in Kabbalah is mainly from a theoretical point of view, but there are plenty of people today claiming to have certain powers based from their knowledge and practice of Kabbalah.

    Which brings us back to the original question and ties in to the question: “How do you know if someone has K&C of HGA?”

    A couple of blog posters have mentioned this interesting analogy that crystallizes my view on: “How do you test what is going on in someone’s spiritual endeavours?”

    The story goes that a learned man once said that a Torah scholar is like a fever, and a Kabbalist is like a stomachache. A fever can be tested using a thermometer, but it’s much more difficult to tell whether someone who claims to have a stomach ache actually has one or not.

    In the same way as it’s possible to test if someone’s is a Torah scholar, it’s not possible to test if someone is a Kabbalist or not. I believe that this principle can be applied to practitioners of all paths and traditions.

    I’m not denying that people have powers and that they can demonstrate those. What I am saying though is that seeing a display of power and knowing how that has come about and through what means is a different matter altogether.

    So if someone tells you they have K&C with their HGA or other entity, can you say with 100% certainty if they are lying or not?

    If your answer is YES, do you by any chance also know what the cure for IBS is?