I have this sense, somewhere between an intuition and suspicion, that most people have an affinity for this or that column as it is represented in the Tree of Life, this or that column through which they relate more easily to the divine. The talk of left- and right-handed work in some occult circles seems to be a somewhat simplified version of this. We can talk a bit, then, about the sorts of work in a similar fashion by examining some of the archetypes that attach themselves to these columns.
After the last post, I dusted off a short book I put together a couple of years ago. The book was the root of this blog. After finishing it, it became clear to me that the understanding animating was still inadequate and working through those inadequacies motivated me to start the blog.
At some point during the Quimbanda workshop at Viridis Genii, Jesse mentioned that Kalunga, the Kongo term for the great spiritual sea in which the dead swim, is generally thought to begin about handspan from the body. The dead are just that close, and during exceptionally dangerous times, even closer.
I had heard something like this before, but this time it settled against the Kabbalistic thoughts I had been posting (interesting trivia: one of the older strains of spiritualist work that feeds into Quimbanda was called, simply enough, ‘Kabbalah’). What else surrounds the material world, close but not identical with it? Chokmah and Binah, perhaps?
Following a little from a discussion I had in the comments of the last post, I want to talk a little about how it is possible to use the Kabbalistic tree of life to differentiate and unite two dimensions of creation according to their relationship to the future (i.e., to Keter). In thinking about how Keter serves as the point from which these two dimensions are projected also enriches our understanding of futurity itself.
I did mention that I wanted to try and add a few more visual elements to these discussions, right? I wanted to try and sketch out the way emanation could be modeled using the SY’s description of the sefirot as a starting point.
A little humorous synchrony for me—I had been talking a little about the fire as the lightning in tree of life and when I went over to Hermetic Lessons, what do I find? A similar, better thought out, comparison of fire and lightning. Ha.
I wanted to return to that, though, because it is another point at which the metaphoric apparatus of the Neoplatonism-lite and Neoplatonism-heavy approaches to the sefirotic diagram overlap on the surface but diverge in substance.
I find that after i write a post like the last one, I return to the Kabbalistic material with more clarity. Writing out my current sense of the material also liberates me from that understanding and when I return to the texts, I come to them refreshed. This post pulls together threads spun in this post (on the misunderstandings that result from reading Kabbalistic material with a heavy Neoplatonic bias) and the last post (contemplating the relationship of the sefirot). It should be fairly short.
When Orlov discusses the Slavonic Jewish Apocalptic materials, he makes much of how they relate directly to the Yom Kippur rite of antiquity, to the ritual of atonement. While he doesn’t establish a priority between them, he traces out their parallelism. The same structure appears in Revelations. The rivalry of the Lamb and the Beast, for example, plays an essential role in the book’s development and it, too, derives from the rite of atonement’s logic.
However, what I want to think through here is the nature of that derivation. It seems to be a derivation by way of reply rather than of repetition. The apocalyptic material both comments upon the rite of atonement and elaborates it. Whether we want to call that a development is up in the air, but it is definitely a thorough permutation.
“Experience, which destroys innocence, also leads one back to it.”—James Baldwin, No Name in the Street
Placing the distortions I have traced out within the broader Gnostic framework of the Fall, of the separation of self-knowledge from divine knowledge, allows for a better account of what their correction entails. The model of distortion is also a model for how to move toward clarification. Clarification requires appreciating that correction is a moving target, that the world of time does not cease within our lifetime.
Understanding this becomes part of the process of clarification. If you want to reach your goal and the goal is moving, you need to know it is moving.
I am a bit unorthodox about moving in and out of the Kabbalistic sphere proper and amplifying it through reference to other practices. For the moment, I’m sticking pretty close to home and working with the practices that shared the the same terrain, literally, with Judaism (i.e., from Islam, Christianity, and the various ‘idolatrous’ contemporaries), that passed through the same Baghdad and Babylon, that spilled over into the same Andalusia and Morocco. That probably won’t be where this stops, but it’s where I am right now.
That seems useful in part because there was some mutual recognition of this shared spiritual world, so even as different traditions were developing their practices internally, they were doing so in a polyglot world where they were exposed to others undertaking similar efforts.