Sunday, 24 August 2014

Finally, chapter 3 It's about Time

Finally, I made it past chapters 1 and 2 in Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creation**). Here is a quick recap of the first few chapters in the form of a bullet list, the hot new way to convey esoteric material.

  • Chapter 1:
    • Introduced the Sefirot at length. I don't really have a good translation for Sefirot, they're all equally poor at conveying what the Esser Sefirot Beli-Mah are about. 
    • The Sefer Yetzira is the oldest Kabbalistic text to mention the Sefirot. They are only mentioned in the first chapter (and not all listed by name). 
    • After chapter 1 there is no further mention of the Sefirot
    • The author assumes that you've either understood and had experience of the Sefirot as outlined how to achieve this in first chapter - or not. 
    • Failure to achieve this in chapter 1, makes the remaining chapter (in my opinion) academic.
  • Chapter 2:
    • Now we get in to the detail of the division of the Aleph Bet series in to 3 mother, 7 double, and 12 elemental/simple letters.
    • This chapter explains various techniques of how to manipulate the letters as meditative exercises
    • These include (for want of a better translation on my part): engraving, carving, letter cycling, weighing, and refinement. 
    • Revealed in this chapter is the basis for creating a golem
    • Rabbi Moshe Cordovero at the end of this chapter's commentary spends a lot of time expounding the meaning of the shape of the letters
    • I have to respectfully respond to this by countering that the sound is more important that the shape.
  • Chapter 3: 
    • Well, I'm still part way through this chapter.
    • So far it's covered the 3 mother letters
    • What they represent in terms of space, time, and soul / consciousness / mind?
    • And how they map on to the 3 worlds, 3 elements, and how they fit in to the chain of emanation that we like to call Creation  of all the worlds.
This is not related to topic of Sefer Yetzira, but does have to do with sound. There are certain tunes that are frequently sung at the end of service to a prayer called Adon Olam. I'm hoping that this Happy tune will join the repertoire being sung in congregations around the world(s).

** There are two words in Hebrew about creation, the first Barah is generally used in Kabbalistic writing that I have come across to refer to creation of Something from Nothing. The other word Yotzer means creating Something from Something. Hence the Sefer Yetzira, book of formation is about the 3rd 'world' in the chain of world emanations (Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzira, Assiah... we're mostly conscious of the latter).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Mix of Ideas, Part 1

This post is a mix of ideas, none of which are fully developed. Please think of them as seed ideas, do with them as you will...

Eclecticism 
Jason recently wrote about  eclecticism part 1, part 2, and part 3. Really good articles and advice that I heartily recommend. It got me thinking about the fact that certain types of problems that face are very common and we come up with very similar solutions to them each time. In software development terms we call them Design Patterns.

There is however the idea of anti-Patterns, which in brief refers to the applying the wrong Design Pattern (common tried and tested approaches to solving problems). I can't really think of a decent example of this in a magical context...

Keep Your Head Off the Mat
I recently started attending a weekly Aikido class. Inspired by Scribbler's post, I finally got organised enough to attend four weeks in a row. In the class a new person joined and I initially made the mistake of thinking that he was a novice like me... boy was I wrong. Turns out he learned from O-Sensei's last pupil and he ended up running that evening's class.

One of the things the guest Sensei taught is to keep your head off the mat. It's hard to explain how different it feels to let your head rest on the floor when someone is trying to grapple you - compared to how you feel in the same situation but you make an effort to keep your head off the floor. In the former your body feels like it has at least partially given up. In the latter you feel stronger, as if you can struggle for longer.

Sometimes on your magical path you feel like life gets the upper hand and you end up on the floor so to speak. Even if you end up in such a situation, remember to keep your head up Mr. Black and you've got a fighting chance of getting back in the game.

Ecology of Spirits and Lands
Today the Digital Ambler posted a call to arms: Get Off Your Ass and Work: Magic and Politics. I commend his desire to better the world, if we don't at least try to leave the world as a better place for the generations to come... what are we really here for?

Here are three things that I have learned in my brief forays in to this area:
  1. Geopolitics is like studying ecology. You can look at only one aspect, for example 'follow the money', religion, etc in the same way that a biologist might only focus on the water cycle, carbon cycle, etc. But oversimplifying it leads to (more) flawed analysis and hence I recommend looking at it as a complex system of constantly interacting and changing organisms and environments. Embrace the complexity. If you've read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams you'll know that by saving the coelecanth, the dodo died out.
  2. Analysis of Spell Patterns. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson does a really good job of explaining that if you cannot decipher communication, that by studying when and where signals are being sent - you can learn something about who is sending messages and  speculate about why. I think that the same idea could be applied to trying to map the influence other mages have in the realm of geopolitics. You may not be able to work out how they're doing it. But you could see patterns emerge in how various political figures behave and when they start 'acting out of character'. Then again, this could be an anti-pattern of what Stephenson describes...
  3. You're playing with the big boys now. The politics of nations, which the Book of Daniel mentions each has an angelic prince representing them is not an arena to wonder in to, dabble a bit and then go back to your day to day life. This is not re-tweeting your 20 seconds of emotional outburst about one of the many, many conflicts going on the world. Dreamworks even has a song about it. 
Anyway, I had another couple of topics to add to this post. But it's too long already of under-developed ideas and it's late in the evening for me. Sleep tight.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Not enough golems to hold the centre

Holding the Centre

Yeats wrote the poem Second Coming in 1918 after the First World War which starts with:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I first came across the line "the centre cannot hold" in Babylon 5. Both in Yeats' time and in G'Kar's fictional time-line in B5, a great war came along soon afterwards. I'm quoting this because I believe that the centre can hold, I am optimistic for the future...

Disappearing Centre

In my community and in similar communities across the United Kingdom, there has been a shift happening away from the centre for the past few decades. Reform and conservative Judaism are drifting away (from my viewpoint) from the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities and the middle(-ish) ground of Modern Orthodox is shrinking. People are either choosing to assimilate and leave their Jewish heritage behind or making a sustained effort to engage deeper with their Jewish heritage.

When challenged on this viewpoint (which should certainly be challenged as it is my very biased opinion), I ask: "How many fourth generation Reform Jews do you know?" and on the other side I ask "How many people do you know who have become frum (observing of religious law) through Aish or other Jewish outreach organizations?"

However, despite the erosion of the middle ground I believe that the centre can hold, I am optimistic for the future...

Discernment

Back in the day when I was at University a couple of decades ago, it was possible to have a civilized conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - be critical of both sides and have a creative debate on various resolutions. Now it seems that there is such cognitive bias and so much of an "us versus them" mentality, that I wonder if those University days were just a dream.

Anyway, this part of the post is about discernment... as I believe that it is a crucial skill for any aspiring warlock or witch to develop. Especially given the variety of books, blogs, lectures, etc available in this age of connectivity.

For example, regarding the current conflict between Hamas and Netanyahu government.. did you know that there is a special United Nations aid agency for the Palestinians? Every other refugee in the world gets refereed to the UNHCR. The latter has "..As of April 2008, the UNHCR employed a staff of 6,351 people in 117 countries..." Whilst the former has "...employing over 25,000 staff, 99% of which are locally recruited Palestinians..." The reason why I am highlighting UNWRA is that they are not the neutral party the media might like you to think, here is a less positive view.

OK, so what about all the civilians who were killed in the last few weeks in Gaza? Again I recommend continuing development in the area of discernment to work out exactly who was killed. But Simon, all this is an extremely biased view of what happened... you might say and you would be correct. Don't believe me. But please do question the reporters who show Syrian photos and attribute them to Gaza and the same reporters who after the conflict admit to harassment and intimidation, as well as the fact that rockets were fired from civilian areas.

OK, last video and it's a long one. But it's important in my opinion as it's the words of a man who has fought in the Middle East and know how wars are conducted in this part of the world.

Conclusion

I would like to say that I am hopeful about the future, but I'm not so sure about that future for my family in Europe. Arguments such as these for legitimate protest against Israel have one glaring hole. The lack of protests around the Ukraine conflict is deafening.

The legendary Golem of Prague was originally created to prevent blood libels. As a trainee golem builder, I am not sure that I could ever build enough golems to counter the reporting that would have you believe that the Israeli army deliberately target women and children.

Discernment and dialogue are the two means by which I believe the centre could hold... and with those in mind I can retain my optimism for the future.

DISCLAIMER: I wrote this article in a sleep-deprived state. I will edit it in the coming days...

Monday, 11 August 2014

This is not a reivew: Merkabah Rider by Edward M Erdelac

This is not a review of Edward M Erdelac's four books of short stories, but if it was it would be effusive with praise shouted from the rooftops. I bought the first book awhile ago and did not get around to reading it right away... and then to break up the monotony of reading project management books I decided to try reading the first book. In just under 2 weeks I had read all four books.
For those unfamiliar with Merkava Mysticism, it was a set of techniques used by Jewish mystics in the early centuries of the common era (and possibly before) that used Ezekiel's vision as a means of Heavenly ascent. The teachings of Ma'aseh Merkava ("Workings of the Chariot") made their way from the Near East to Germany and then on to Spain.

The last of an ancient order of Jewish mystics capable of extraplanar travel, The Merkabah Rider roams the demon haunted American West of 1879 in search of the renegade teacher who betrayed his enclave. But as the trail grows fresher, shadows gather, and The Hour Of The Incursion draws near...

The Merkabah Rider stories weave together the Merkava mystical ascent narrative in to the Wild West setting. It combines so many elements of Jewish Magic, Myth, and Mysticism that I was glad to have my copy of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis on hand for cross-referencing of terms.

If that was not enough of a reason to read the stories, they are all really well written and I just couldn't stop reading them. The fact that it combined Jewish mythology with Cthulhu mythology was just a cherry on top of the icing of this excellent series.

Merkabah rider series gets 5 out of 5 stars.