I was reading the recent post over at Hermetic Lessons and it reminded, oh, yeah, right, the Klippot, the places at which the work can take a nasty turn, and if you do the work long enough, you are going to rumble around them, risk falling into them, maybe even stumble right into them and have to make your way out (ugly scenes). That isn’t oogie-boogie scary, it’s just practical caution scary. The first time I saw them laid out neatly it was as idolatry-bloodshed–sexual perversity, but you don’t even have to squint to see Blogos’s blasphemy-insanity-sickness/death in that distinction.
(Technical aside: A little while ago, I was talking about how when you look at the tree without the distortion necessary to magnify the sefirot and it seems like you get three da’ats at the crossroads of the mothers and doubles. Well, funny when you think about it, that what the undistorted tree is actually mapping are the three klippot. Meditating on the relationship between those and the way in which Western esoteric kabbalism tends to understand da’at illuminates quite a bit. The undistorted tree packs so much information and insight into its form.)
I’ve bumped into all of them at some point in time in my work, some more dramatically than others, but I have been thinking about blasphemy/idolatry most of late. With few exceptions, I have done little in the way of intentional blasphemy, but I am often aware that what I do would seem blasphemous. I don’t try to fixate on that overmuch because if you are going to do magical work, you have to accept some of that. Still, to not check in on that from time to time seems like risking the black hole, klippot disaster of succumbing to it.
(Another aside: I have personally found mindfulness meditation a good safety valve for negotiating the ‘insanity’ side of the equation. Regularly stepping back, or attempting to, makes it a lot easier to catch myself getting caught up in the racing of ideas or the beginnings of an insidious obsession. It has also served to navigate some of the more intense visionary states that can manifest in dreams, the family of sleep paralysis effects, though there it borders on stoicism.)
I keep thinking about Kabbalistic astrology as a reference point, because I have seen in a few places (I think Aryeh Kaplan’s Sefer Yetzirah in Theory and Practice is one, but when I went looking for the account, I couldn’t find it) it mentioned that the constellations shouldn’t be represented like the idolaters do (you know, lions, goats, twins). As I think about my experience with working with the stars, that makes a lot of sense from a practical perspective, because in each of those images of the heavens are bound up a series of expectations and ideas about what those powers are like and, when you get right down to it, they are so much more than those images suggest. Those images are the residue of previous experiences with them combined with outright fantasy.
I think some of the blasphemy comes in thinking that we can easily reduce them down to simple categories like we often do, attach chains of correspondences or duties to them, and then just dial them in whenever we feel like we’re treading on those categories. We actually need to spend more time with them on their own, as the constellation as it intersects with our life and workings, to figure out how or if it belongs on our metaphysical speed dial.
It also has to do with making idols of those relationships, of trying to fix the relationship with those potencies to a specific set of moments in our interaction with them. Let’s get back to one of the organizing metaphors that animates the Kabbalistic concept of klippot—it is a husk in the sense that it contains something else. In settling for an idol, we settle for a past moment in a living relationship when we, instead, could move more deeply into the relationship, opening up new domains of work and experience. No surprise these enshrined husks get more tyrannical since we are basically pouring our attention into reflexes without proper consciousness.
I can go with the Yeatses and accept that sometimes we need to rest in our own mechanism, live reflexively to recuperate, but we need to cultivate mindfulness of when we are resting and when we are running.
There is even more to blasphemy than that, though. The person I was ten years ago would have found it strange to discover how much my work presently passes through the Bible, but when it became a thing, I refused to let my preconceptions get in the way of forging ahead. However, one of the strange things about doing the work with the Bible is that the text itself and the figures that animate it take on a vivacity I would never have expected and I suspect the warning about blasphemy relates to how one should understand that vivacity.
Figures from one section suddenly appear beneath the guises of figures from another, revealing spiritual structures beneath the narrative components of the text. it is something of a slow-motion psychedelic experience, with disparate points of geometric objects folding into each other, blooming in novel directions. Then there are the occasions when the spirits with which I work themselves actively take up those masks and dance their way through the text, tugging the disparate together. Following that closely, those movements are often instructive, intended to educate.
That instruction, though, is for me, intended to address the state of my life and work at present, sometimes in a quite broad sense, having social ramifications, but sometimes in a more personal and intimate sense.
With that vitality, though, comes a temptation to retell the stories according to the way they have manifested through the work. That temptation isn’t wrong and seems productive, but that retelling needs to accorded a proper place outside the text itself, whether that text be oral or written. To do otherwise is to tamper with the potent ‘opening structure’ that made possible the entrance into the living order. I suspect it is for just that sort of reason that the Revelation ends with a curse to those who would transmit the text after modifying it.
Part of the challenge of circumventing blasphemy, then, is a challenge to preserve the distinction between scripture and commentary, with the understanding that this distinction is somewhat slippery and sometimes what is commentary passes into the domain of scripture. That isn’t a novel distinction in any established spiritual tradition, but it is definitely one that has suffered a bit in the contemporary period where we have come to be somewhat dismissive of traditions like that.
If I had to draw a distinction between scripture and commentary, it would be that scriptures don’t possess truth, they are vehicles through which truths can be staged, produced, understood, and integrated. Commentaries, by way of contrast, describe and illuminate specific stagings, specific moments of the scripture’s operations. I know, this is an ideal distinction which gets muddy in practice because so many scriptures bundle themselves up with their commentaries and tumble down through history with them, but if not perfect, it seems workable to me at present.
Underneath this is something else instructive, about the relationship between blasphemy and insanity. The resting structure of the scripture is stable, grounding, yields orderliness, is a solid thing in manifest existence. If you attempt to rewrite it to better reflect its vital expressions, you open yourself to the chaos of all possible expressions, the chaos of a thousand or million possible stories that constantly displace themselves according to the situation, you displace your mind into the more plastic realms of the transtemporal and eternal.
As Deleuze and Guattari would probably never have said of scripture, the texts are also the body to which you can return after you have run yourself ragged and into near dispersion.