Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Ambassador Rant

Last week we had some repair work done in the house. During a chat over tea and biscuits, the chap I was talking with said: “This is the first time that I have spoken to someone of your faith.”

It occurred to me that the conversation that we were having about religions, history, Europe, politics, belief, etc… all of it was shaping his worldview. Every word that I chose was leaving some kind of impression as a representative of my faith.

I was an ambassador.

Not one by choice, but simply through circumstance.

This got me thinking…. Every person who labels themselves as belonging to a certain group, community, movement, etc. is an ambassador. YOU are an ambassador. All of the time!

Unfortunately it is human nature to judge a group by interactions experienced with just a small number of people -whether that is in person or over the internet. It’s not fair, learn to live with it. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

This is not a Review: Guide for the Perplexed

The Guide for the Perplexed took me many months to finish reading, mainly because I only read it in between doing other things. Another reason why it took so long to read is that I found some of the ideas quite challenging to grasp and accept.
The Wikipedia entry for the book opens with the following: The Guide for the Perplexed (Hebrew: מורה נבוכים, Moreh Nevukhim; Arabic: دلالة الحائرين, dalālatul ḥā’irīn, דלאל̈ה אלחאירין) is one of the major works of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides or "the Rambam". It was written in the 12th century in the form of a three-volume letter to his student, Rabbi Joseph ben Judah of Ceuta, the son of Rabbi Judah, and is the main source of the Rambam's philosophical views, as opposed to his opinions on Jewish law.
When the book first appeared it was opposed quite strongly in the Jewish world.

In the centuries leading up the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, there has not been any way of one group of Jews to impose their will on other Jews. No inquisition, military force, court or government that directed Jews dispersed over multiple countries. The strongest means of censure was exile from the community.

In the centuries since the publication of the Guide, Mainmonides’ rulings on Jewish law have become very much mainstream. But his non-halachic (law) works have gained some level of acceptance only to lessen in popularity in recent times. As the Wiki entry sums it up:
In contemporary Jewish circles, controversies regarding Aristotelian thought are significantly less heated, and, over time, many of Maimonides' ideas have become authoritative. As such, the book is seen as a legitimate and canonical, if somewhat abstruse, religious masterpiece.
This raises the question… why bother spending almost a year slogging my way through a book that few people still bother to study?

Because it had a massive influence on another author whose works were censured during his lifetime in the 12th century at least until the 16th century and only saw widespread distribution today. This author is THE focus of my studies in Kabbalah, he is: Rabbi Abraham Abulafia.

When Maimonides comes up in conversations that I have taken part in – he is often portrayed as an ultra-rationlist. As opposed to Nachmanides who is very much at the other end of the spectrum and is immersed in the study of mysticism. However, every time I argue the point that Maimonides was a very spiritual person and keenly interested in how to achieve prophecy, albeit through a rationalist route that focused on philosophy.

So having read the Friedlander translation once, I am now in a position to understand better the context within which Abraham Abulafia writes. That does not mean that I can make sense of what Abulafia is writing, but at least it helps a little (time will tell).

Currently I am reading the Kuzari by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, and when I have finished that I’ll go back to studying the Guide – this time around the Shlomo Pines edition.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Practice, Practice, Practice and you will Experience

This week I attended the following event at Treadwells Bookshop:

12 February (Tuesday) Supernatural Ballads Acoustic Gig with Lisa Knapp

Ghosts, kelpies, fairy folk, Mayday love and Lammas rites — the British folk music tradition is full of the eeriness of the English landscape. Come, listen and have chills run down your spine. Lisa Knapp was named MOJO 'Best Folk Album of the year' (2007) and BBC 2 Folk Award double nominee for Best Track and Horizon Award. Tonight's songs are ghostly and eerie ballads for a pagan audience, in an intimate acoustic gig specially for Treadwell's. See more on her website, and a Youtube video.

If you've never been to Treadwells before and live in London or have the opportunity to visit London - and you are not sure about going to a bookshop with pagan, occult, history, philosophy, magic, shamanism, etc - then read this survival guide.

Anyway... I must admit to not being very knowledgeable about folk music, in fact my musical knowledge is limited to "Now That's What I Call Music" 13 to 31. However, the nice chap sitting next to me was a self-labelled music geek. So before the lecture we compared notes on how music has influenced our cultures, how music was used as an aid and preparation to experience prophecy, and the work that Lisa Knapp is doing to bring back to life some very interesting folk music.

After the gig was over I was struck by two things. Well, actually three.

Firstly that it take a lot of practice, practice, practice to be very good at any art. Whether that is music, magic, drawing, or any creative actvitiy.

Secondly all the talks that I had been to Treadwells before were based around theory. It really felt as if Lisa had cast a spell over the audience. As Andrew summed it up nicely by the evening's end: "it was experience based learning". But we could only benefit from that exprience based learning after all the years of practice that Lisa put in to her art.

Thirdly and linked very closely to the two above... I was blown away by how much of herself Lisa put in to her musical performances. It was the sigh at the end of the song that gave it away. Almost as if she was filled with a special kind of magic. When the last note faded away she sighed in such a way that it was like lips parting from pa passionate kiss. Lingering, filled with longing and the promise of more bliss to come, if only as much effort and passion was injected back in.

And then it hit me like a punch in the stomach on the commute home... to be the best that I can be, to achieve my potential as a Golem Builder, I have to practice, practice, practice. It needs to consume my days, my nights, my waking moments and my dreams. The question is... am I willing to commit to such a degree? Will I stay at the level that is equivalent to jumping on a trampoline, or try to build a jet pack and learn to fly?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Building a TARDIS-AS

When I had this idea initially it sounded so wacky that even I laughed it off, but then it kept coming back in a slightly more refined form each time. Mr. Black made me think of it the first time, but I can't remember which of his posts inspired me.

The idea in a nutshell is as follows: To travel through the spiritual realms with Rabbi Avraham Abulafia.

In slightly more detail I imagine that this might be like travelling in a Dr. Who style TARDIS. Except that it is made up of Hebrew letters, has 221 gates and is able to not only travel in "time and relative dimension in space (TARDIS)" but travel through the dimension(s) of spirit. Instead of taking Dr. Who along for the ride, my travelling companion of choice would be Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, the father of prophetic (also known as ecstatic) Kabbalah.

Unfortunately, as I said before it's such a far -fetched idea that I immediately laughed it off. Also, I've hung up my wizard's hat - plus it would according to my most recent project GANTT chart take at least 5 years to read through enough of Abulafia's texts in Hebrew to 1. connect with the spirit of Abulafia and 2. have a deep enough experiential understanding of Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation) to able to make use of the 221 gates (some refer to it as the 231 gates).

Since I don't know where Avraham Abulafia is buried, it's impossible for me to prostrate myself on his grave in the hopes of achieving an ibbur... impregnating my soul with a shard of his. So the next best thing is to study his works. Having spent the last 2+ years studying Hebrew, I'm now starting to move on to his writing, but it is really slow going. If that does not work, I'll take a leaf out of Frater Acher's book and just create an imaginary friend called Avraham Abulafia. Who knows?... He might even turn in to the real deal.

Another crazy idea that I had was to invite him in spirit to help me study his works. Perhaps not so crazy when you consider that Abulafia may well have worked with Philip K. Dick.

Anyway... putting it all together, I came up with the following SWOT analysis:
  • Strengths:
    • Abulafia techniques are proven to work, simply based on how many prominent Kabbalists used his works and eventually even started quoting him directly.
  • Weaknesses:
    • Uh... I've hung up my hat and to be honest, this could be one of the barmiest ideas that I have ever had.
  • Threats:
    • There is enough published material that indicates if my work does not turn in to the twittering of starlings that it could well unhinge my mind or even my mortal coil. I take such threats seriously.
  • Opportunities:
    • Travelling the heavenly realms with Rabbi Avraham Abulafia... come on, if I have to spell that out then I really need to help you understand better what that means.
Given the fact that I have a young family, too little knowledge of Kabbalah and less tolerance for channeling Divine energy than I'd previously assumed... this Trainee Golem Building is unlikely to ascend physically in to another dimension any time soon. Then again... stranger things have happened.

So... what's the craziest idea that you have had since the start of 2013?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

New Golem Goodness

Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica fame has posted recently on the making of a new game in which the main character is a golem. This is very, very exciting news. You can see the link to the news article here (plus link from Wired blog), and a direct link to the Moonbot game developer studio kick-starter page can be found here.

Don't think of this so much as funding a new game, but rather as a way to keep the legend of the golem alive in a new and interactive way. Golems are created by letters and words, please help save the golem.

In other golem related news... here are a couple of other links (some of which) I lifted from the above mentioned blog that may be of interest: