Book Shrine II

My writing head is mostly at noodle lately. I have been thinking about some bigger things, some of which I have already talked about here, others which are big and sweeping and a little scary. I don’t like to let the practice of writing here languish, so, yep, noodling it is. Let’s talk a little more about that book shrine.

Let’s start the I Ching texts. The first one found its way into the house for practical reasons—I wanted an accessible alternative to the I Ching texts I could access easily online. The second one, though, The Taoist I Ching is there to remind me how rich a history the oracle has had. The oldest material we have on the I Ching oracle’s antecedents predates some Sumerian material, and still in the 10th century A.D. it is so vital that contemporary Taoists are turning to it to explicate and annotate their own work. Also, let’s not forget that the oracle played a role in Philip K. Dick’s spiritual development.

That continuous and multifaceted chain of knowledge, some of it divinatory, some of it not…I like to have that front and center. I like to be humbled by the awareness of all I will never know about that system. I also like to be reminded how the I Ching isn’t exactly one system of divination so much as a potency capable of realizing itself through many different systems. Each of those instances is both distinctive and still connected to all the other expressions through that shared potency. I wonder, too, if Indo-euro-africano geomancies are similarly related to that potency, only differentiated more intensely.

Next in line, we get to Dina Katz’s work on the Sumerian netherworld. There is a practical dimensions here, too; I have used some of the prayers she records in her study. What puts the text on the shrine, though, is how unwilling she is to posit a fundamental Sumerian worldview into which all the texts she studies can be integrated. Rather, she chooses to note the disparities between one text and another, the disparities between one era and another. She doesn’t find one view of the afterlife, but several, and she is clear about the texts not providing us with the information we would need to constitute a model that would make them coherent with each other.

That’s great. It reminds me that there isn’t a lost unity in the past we can reconstruct, only the same chain of human muddling in which we can participate. There are spirits and the dead, it’s difficult to figure out if there is a keen difference between them, and there are all of these alliances between them which we can try to grasp in order to communicate with them and participate in our own spiritual well-being. There are tensions between different groups over exactly how this should be done, and those tensions are still with us.

The next three books (Tanakh, Bible, Qur’an) are there for their inherent sacredness. As a set, they have defined the spiritual landscape for most of my ancestors for more than a thousand years. They are also living expressions of the spiritual ferment that gave birth to Sumer, carrying within themselves lessons unavailable to Sumer. Also, like the I Ching, they have become potencies unto themselves, capable of realizing their presence through a multitude of specific expressions.

The <i>Sefer Yetzirah</i> and <i>On Magic</i> follow because they form part of the penumbra of spiritual exploration and understanding that has taken shape around these three sacred texts. They organize material from the pre-Abrahamic substratum, too, which is something I don’t want to lose sight of. As an aside, <i>Sefer Yetzirah</i> is one of the books I added to the shelf after its creation. Tellingly, I can’t quite remember what I shuffled off of the shelf to make room for it.

(It’s a little awkward to call it the ‘pre-Abrahamic’ substratum. In many ways, the figure of Abraham seems to be the very embodiment of that deep layer of wisdom. Abraham embodies the relationship between the big three [Judaism, Christianity, Islam] and the generations of understanding that preceded them. Still, it’s workable, so I’ll let it be with this caveat.)

Well, this is enough noodling for one post. Take care all you good people.

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