Yuval Harari’s Jewish Magic before the Rise of Kabbalah includes material that clarifies the relationship between magical skulls and incantation bowls, the tight linkage between witchcraft and harlotry, the invocation of angelic spirits (‘princes’) to acquire knowledge of both a practical and theoretical sort (most especially knowledge and understanding of the Torah), and so on. As the title suggests, it focuses on the pre-medieval dimensions of the Jewish magical tradition, looking quite a bit at the rabbinic material, but it does dip into the debates that are taking place on the eve of the medieval era (most prominently those defined by Maimonides).
Let’s get ready to ramble, shall we? This is one of those throat-clearing posts that tend to show up in the middle. I keep coming back to something Simon said in response to my last post on Moses in the medieval Jewish Kabbalistic material:
“SY is considered a text of the school of ma’aseh bereishit (work of creation), a complementary but separate school to ma’aseh merkavah (work of the chariot). The former is a school focusing on the metaphysics of creation as outlined in chapter 1 of Genesis and the latter school is based on visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah involving heavenly ascent. I would place the experience of Moses receiving the law as related to ma’aseh bereishit and the splitting of the sea of reeds as related to the school of ma’aseh bereishit.”
It was useful to have it said in these terms contrasted in just this way because it reopens a series of distinctions that has long animated my thinking (wizard/witch; the sumerian diasporas; though the diasporas posts are basically a pitch to break it out into wizard/sorcerer/witch). So, when we are talking about the early medieval fusion of the SY with an account of an ascent to heaven by Moses, we are looking at an interesting case where the two modalities have crisscrossed each other.
The more I look into the Christian syncretisms that developed in Mesoamerica with American thought, the more comfortable I am in asserting that the syncretisms were rooted in the deep and understanding appreciation of the Mesoamericans for the Christian mysteries. This wasn’t naive or protective (hiding ‘real’ Mesoamerican deities behind Catholic facade), but a visceral awareness that the celestial mysteries animating their religious understanding also animated the Christian mysteries.
In short: it wasn’t a Mesoamerican syncretism so much as a Mesoamerican synthesis, one mutilated by the inability of Europeans to appreciate and reciprocate the Mesoamericans’ insights. It seems, too, like this insight is portable, to other instances of ‘syncretism.’ So that what we are seeing is not ‘cultural’ in the sense we use the term, but ‘scientific’ (as a 19th century German might have used the term)—rational, comparative, synthetic.
This mourning for Tammuz/Damuzi thing…Okay, let me run through some stuff.
There is a quote that comes from a tenth-century manuscript, Nabatean Agriculture, that contains much useful information. Somewhat controversially attributed to Ibn Wahshiyya, Nabatean Agriculture sounds like a fascinating text that mixed star lore and magic with extensive practical advice about agriculture; I wish there was a complete English translation available, but read about it here.
(As an aside, I’m also interested in the relationship between agriculture and star lore showing up independently in both Mesoamerica and the Middle East. There seems to be some good evidence for strengthening the thesis that ritual might have preceded agriculture and laid the groundwork for it, that the experience of time in ritual might have preceded the understanding of time necessary for agriculture. In the Americas, you have the mound complexes, and in the Old World, you have Gobekli Tepi.)
The quote in question describes how rites of lamentation were shared by devotees to both Tammuz (Dumuzi) and St. George at the time of the manuscript’s composition. I quote it here as an opportunity to consider the relationship between continuity and memory.
This post has been kicking around my drafts folder for a little bit. It doesn’t seem mediocre enough to trash, so I’ll share for the heck of it; it kind of fits with the lunar kick that I have been on for a few.
Lately I have had faeries on the brain. I have been curious after the sluagh, looking a little into their mythology. R. J. Stewart has found his way back into the house thanks to my partner. In a Stewart-ian vein, I also stumbled across this interesting piece by his friend, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki (she gives Stewart a well-deserved shout out within it). What follows is very notebooky.