[NB] Thoughts while Crossing the Great River

A powerful urge last night just to gather together all of this and take a picture, put in front of myself the trajectory of this long trajectory of writing I have been involved with. It looks a little mad, doesn’t it?

A number of notebooks of varying size and quality arrayed on a striped pink and purple bedspread.

The top row begins somewhere in 1993 and those numerous, tiny notebooks were filled in front to back, then back to front. They are crammed with thoughts, excerpts from books, quotations of people that I knew, drafts of poetry (some of it is, well, let’s say not terrible; philosophy absorbed my poetry and nowadays I tend to only use poetry as a gesture in my thinking, to tell myself to change my speed, alter my rhythm). I had one of those on me almost all the time.

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[NB] Revelation and Gnosis in Context

Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation (ἀποκαλύψει; apocalypse), or by knowledge (γνώσει; gnosis), or by prophesying (προφητείᾳ), or by doctrine (διδαχῇ; didactic knowledge or instruction)?—I Corinthians 14:6

I have mentioned Revelation a bit, but I came across this more recently and realized it provides a useful model for talking about what is going on in the text and how it might meant to be received and used. I like it, too, because it helps to flesh out what the gnosis of gnosticism is supposed to be and how it relates to other forms of knowledge and communication. There is also something to be taken here about the place of knowledge derived from ecstasies and trance, which is no small thing either.

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[NB] Geomancy in Micronesia

I have a tendency to follow my interests all around the bend, into the curious corners and back alleys. When I was tracing what I could of the movement of geomancy around the African and European sphere, I stumbled onto a brief reference to a geomantic practice in Micronesia in William Bascom’s Ifa Divination. It turns out his colleague down the hall, William Lessa, had been doing fieldwork and turned up a system that bore some striking similarities to Ifa. I’ve tried to talk about it elsewhere, but I figured it might merit a proper blog post, too.

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[NB] Trees In the Forest of Mystery

I picked up a copy of Frisvold’s latest, Ifá: A Forest of Mystery pretty early out of the gate. I started in my usual way, dipping in and out of the book at random or as some specific curiosity prompted me (what does he say about Ogun? What about Òbárá Meji?). That left me with a favorable impression of the text—each time I came away with a sense of having my understanding both confirmed and expanded.

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[NB] Old Decks of Cards

One of the things I enjoy about taking a dive into the lived history of an object or idea is how often we discover a rich variety behind the seemingly simple facade of a standard account. It’s true of things like chakras, and it’s true of things like playing cards and tarot. There is a new history of European playing cards out there looking to sample the earliest survivors they can find (The World at Play: Luxury Cards 1430–1540 by Timothy B. Husband). This note from the November 4, 2016 TLS shares gems like this from it:

Husband starts with the earliest preserved set of cards, known as the Stuttgart Playing Cards, dating from about 1430….These were almost certainly executed by a workshop rather than a single artist. The suits are Falcons, Ducks, Stags and Hounds, and each comprises thirteen cards: falcons and ducks have a mounted king, an upper knave and a lower knave plus nine pip or number cards; stags and hounds have an enthroned queen, an upper dame and a dower dame, plus nine number cards.

I’m assuming that there is an ace which the author does not count as numbered (since otherwise we only have twelve cards), but it is an intriguing object from a structuralist perspective, a little window onto the folkloric landscape from which these images are drawn. We have in each a set of gendered divisions (leading to a parity of male and female figures); ecological distinctions between that which flies and that which runs that map directly onto the gendered ones (male=flying, female=running); and a division between hunting companion and hunted that bisects the gendered roles (there is a male hunting animal and a female hunting animal, a male hunted animal and female hunted animal).

Considering that the Courtly Hunt Cards (also German) from a decade later feature “Falcons, Herons, Hounds and Lures,” there also seems to be an important category of that which is found in heaven, earth, and water (Herons and Ducks). The play of the hunt imagery and courtly love is noted, but if my undergraduate history lessons haven’t been too distorted by time, this is also contemporary with a burgeoning alchemical scene.

Thinking about the cross-fertilizations of these different imaginaries might throw a little light on the alchemical marriage, as well as leave us wondering how deeply the entanglement between card and magical thinking more generally might go if we aren’t expecting it all to look like (over)systematized postGolden Dawn tarot assignments.

Geomancy on the Tree of Life Diagram

[Oy. I don’t know, part of me is tempted to delete this and let the more recent series on geomancy and Kabbalism hold its place, but I don’t think that is quite right. Part of that is bearing witness to the process which I think is what gives us permission to give others permission to work through their own errors. Part of that, too, is that the more recent series doesn’t precisely supplant this so much as lay out its foundations more clearly, with the implication that there is still more to build atop those foundations. I didn’t quite have the right story to anchor what I was doing. Anyway, I think this may be the last page to take down and roll into a post.]

The first thing I want to discuss at length is the relationship between the geomantic figures to the Kabbalistic tree of life diagram. As with the geomantic discussions, I will presume some familiarity with the esoteric Kabbalism that circulates through the Western Magical Traditions like the Golden Dawn and Thelema. Similarly, though, I will expect readers to consider my work as belonging to an alternative formulation of it, one rooted in an rearticulation of the Tree of Life diagram upon the model presented in the Saadia retention of the Sefer Yetzirah (SY), as well as in some study of Jewish Kabbalism more broadly.

A drawing of the tree of life as described in this essay. Sefirot are represented as blue squares, elemental lines are in red, double lines are in black, and mother lines are in gree.

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What do I mean by Geomancy?

[Decommissioning another page and rolling it into a post.]

And God has not assigned to any man two hearts within his breast [Qur’an 33:4],
but He has assigned to each heart two faces, because He has created of everything two, a couple [11:40].
Hence He built bringing together on the even,
for His oddness is none save the oddness of the many.”
—Ibn al-‘Arabi, translated and quoted in The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn Al-‘Arabi’s Cosmology by William Chittick (175)

Geomantic work is freighted with significance for me—practically, as a form of divination; spiritually, as a means of communicating with subtle presences; and mystically, as a means of aligning myself with the holy and the sacred. I regularly make use of several forms of geomancy and there are many, many more forms that out there. Where to start then?

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