I’m just riffing off of the recent reading and household discussion of Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years. It’s a great book and part of its strength is its strength lies in its tight focus on the archaeological record. That costs her some breadth (though it is still a broad book)—for example, there is little said about Africa, Asia, or the Americas. This is generally fine given her argument that the regions she is studying serve as the cradle of string and subsequently weaving technology. Given her deep time frame, diffusion into Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia is easy enough.
I am just trying to pull together a little constellation of thoughts and conversations. This post spins at the crossroads of Wole Soyinka’s Myth, Literature, and the African World (ergo a little of Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy by way of Soyinka’s dialogue with it), Zdenka Volavka’s Crown and Ritual, Margaret Thompson and Henry John Drewal’s Gẹlẹdẹ, some household conversations about Dionysos, a smidge of Károly Kerényi’s Dionysos, and a friend’s offhanded observation that the so-called ‘Artemis’ of Ephesus’s so-called ‘breasts’ looked a lot like the nests of bumble bees (having to use ‘so-called’ twice says something, doesn’t it?).
This may also be brought to you by the letter ‘M’ and the number 8. This isn’t intended to be a mash-up of all these elements, but deep-rooted mysteries tend to have many branches and sometimes they intertwine. This is gestural, pointing out how what is disparate in proximity might converge if we trace the outline of their trajectory.
Talking about the sefirah and the sippur yetzihas Mitzrayim reminds me that I have a little notebook post that I have wanted to make for a while about Pharaoh as a spiritual power. His redemption at the last moment forms part of Ibn al’Arabi’s account of Moses in the Bezels of Wisdom, making him something like a mediating power between the necromantic absorption of Mitzrayim’s wisdom. He also shows up in the Justin’s Baruch as the tenth angel of Mother Eden.
I have been fidgeting with a post on the sefirah/sefirot (using sefirah for plural; we’ll see if it sticks), and to do that I need to start toward the beginning of things.
So, let me take a moment and start from scratch, or scratch-ish, with walking through my thinking about section 1 of the <i>Sefer Yetzirah</i>. The first section is essential for talking about the sefirah, but it is awfully meaty. This post hits 1.1 -1.8, the next should finish off the rest of part one.
This will be eccentric, but I’m hoping useful to others; maybe I’m just crazy? I’m using Kaplan’s Gra translation as basis for this one, in part to shake up my own reliance on the Saadia account and in part because it allows me to point readers to this website to read along. Each section gets a quick summary, then me sharing notes around it. Some of the summaries are utterly redundant, but it’s part of that thinking through work I’m doing. This is all sketch work, so nothing final.
If I do this with later sections, the Gra translation might be more problematic since assignments get very tricky. I’m not borrowing that trouble at the moment.
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.
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 post–Golden Dawn tarot assignments.
Only the Messiah himself consummates all history, in the sense that he alone redeems, completes, creates its relation to the Messianic. For this reason nothing historical can relate itself on its own account to anything Messianic. Therefore the Kingdom of God is not the telos of the historical dynamic: it cannot be set as a goal. From the standpoint of history it is not the goal but the end. Therefore the order of the profane cannot be built up on the idea of the Divine Kingdom, and therefore theocracy has no political, but only a religious meaning….
If one arrow points to the goal toward which the profane dynamic acts, and another marks the direction of Messianic intensity, then certainly the quest to free humanity for happiness runs counter to the Messianic direction; but just as a force can, through acting, increase another that is acting in the opposite direction, so the order of the profane assists, through being profane, the coming of the Messianic Kingdom. The profane, therefore, although not itself a category of this Kingdom, is a decisive category of its quietest approach. For in happiness all that is earthly seeks its downfall, and only in good fortune is its downfall destined to find it.—Walter Benjamin, “Theological-Political Fragment” in Reflections (312; emphasis mine)
Let’s look at the book of Revelation in light of this structure. I don’t think it will be a perfect match, but the notion that there is a profane world which, developed, calls forth its own Messianic conclusion allows us to better appreciate the operations of the Apocalypse. That messianic movement takes place along the axis of the sevens, what in Kabbalistic terms refers us to the double letters in their generative aspect in the Sefer Yetzirah. This moves us closer to the substance of the transition from the seven churches to the renewed twelve tribes.