[NB] Winding the Twain Together

This will be another short post; I just have two developments that I want to flag for further consideration. The first comes from reading the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, the second from a bookstore/museum synchronicity.

The account of creation in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel is a simple yet profound attempt to fuse Mayan conceptions of creation with the accounts of Christianity. A quick list to note some of that intellectual-spiritual work:

  • explores the sympathy between Christian accounts of God’s generative word and Mayan accounts of the generative word of the gods.
  • constructs the Mayan-Christian account of creation in response to some version of the account given in Revelation (which opens the door to Kabbalistic material illuminating the situation).
  • defines the manifestation of God in Mayan terms, providing an account of the many manifestations of God in the six directions and so on.

I recently flipped open Caroline Walker Bynum’s Christian Materiality and found myself staring at figure 29, a front and back view of a late 12th-century carving of Mary holding the Christ child. The back revealed an open hollow where once a relic rested. Apparently the carving was a popular enough style, the sort of thing used in processions.

The open hollow startled me because it so clearly reminded me of the minkisi figures I had recently seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—human figures from whom a ritual charge had been similarly removed to leave a hollow.

Fromont (The Art of Conversion) has made a strong case that the human and animal minkisi with nails are a comparably lte development and very likely have their roots in the Kongo integration of European sculptural forms into their practices. That hollow Mary, though, suggests that the integration may have extended well-beyond the aesthetic and into the spiritual practices of the Kongo people.

Oh, and as an aside, something that I recently learned from Kaplan’s Sefer Yetzirah in Theory and Practice: the oft-quoted bit about every blade of grass having an angel standing over it that whispers grow, grow? The word translated as ‘angel’ should be more accurately translated as ‘constellation.’


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