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).
I’ve started to work through the second of the three seals. Pacing has been a key element of this process. I had an idea of how the remaining seals should go ever since I finished drafting a version of the first, but the idea and the reality have differed in some essential ways. Had I tried to jump into the second seal before letting the dust settle from the first, I would have carried too much intellectual expectation in and botched it. As it is, I am just now starting to receive the dreams and intuitions that allow me to set to work on the second.
This is going to be a short post, but there are a couple of things that I want to point toward. This is mostly a look at cool things happening on the internet, but they form part of the seedbed that I may want to revisit.
First up, I wanted to point to Simon’s post on Da’at and speech. It is a good post, but I want to draw your attention to the comments, too. There is a great discussion going on there between Simon and Fernando that illuminates some deep issues about how to read the source material of Kabbalism. Essentials in a big way.
Second, I want to point out a recent documentary called The Nightmare which explores several people’s very personal experiences with sleep paralysis. It takes a phenomenological approach, exploring the experience from the inside and includes extended reenactments of the subjects’ reports.
It ends up being very Fortean, setting out a puzzle of related but not identical experiences which don’t quite come together, where the ‘not coming together’ seems to be integral to the phenomenon itself. There are a few points where it seems like this might be entrez into a discussion of different species of spiritual beings, while being just slippery enough to make one hesitate at the presumption. Fun!
…was traveling through the Siberian tundra and found an animal he had long been looking for. It was a more than lifesize cock, made of what looked like thin, colourless glass. But it was alive and had sprung by chance from a microscopic unicellular organism which had the power to to turn into all sorts of animals…or even into objects of human use.… The next moment each of these chance forms vanished without a trace.
—Reported by C. G. Jung in Psyche and Symbol, 295
Chance in its pure form, suggested by the workings of evolution, which nonetheless produces a panoply of things which can be put to use, which have a purpose in our limited human venue.
A cock carries so many rich associations. It is, first, a cock, an animal with deep religious associations and a frequent sacrificial offering. As cock it also plays a double entendre with the phallus and thereby with the figure of castration, the loss of the penis that gives birth to the symbol.
Sacrifice, loss, and generation.
But the generation secured in all of this is fragile. It vanishes without a trace, leaving me on the tundra again by myself. The chance events from which all this springs are, in the final accounting, chance, without a firm basis in the world in which they emerge. They run their course and are gone.
The cock itself is bland, barely there, colorless and made of glass, through which things pass. This is the unfolding and closing of a dream, and the dream circles to encompass the entirety of human society, taking it with it when it goes.
The cock, the production of signs and symbols, the suggestion of all things Mercurial. With the cock we find the Mercurial machine elves in their kaleidoscopic magnificence, but all that the produce occurs amidst a greater emptiness. It parades before me, but I do nothing, only look.
Why do I only look?
What would it take for these seeds to take root and acquire stable life?
The dreamer was in a wild mountain region where he found contiguous layers of triassic rock. He loosened the slabs and discovered to his boundless astonishment that they had human heads on them in low relief.
—Reported by C. G. Jung in Psyche and Symbol, 295
Triassic rock…there is a lot to think about in that alone. This great mountain region in which the memory of an era flanked by mass extinctions has been exposed. That they are contiguous is important, they have been brought up intact from this distant time, preserving their nearness to it.
The astonishment is obvious, but I wonder if I shouldn’t dwell with it, too. These are not remnants of a fossil human, not remnants of a humanity before our own understanding of them. These are the ideas of humans before humans. They are in low relief, not fully formed in three dimensions, suggested only. This is Lovecraft country, where a Great Race may record in its stones the dreams of a people who are yet to be.
Between these other intelligences who carve, who lived contiguous with their own world, and the reality with which I am contiguous, there is a flash of astonishment that joins us one to the other. I am here, they are there, but between us some mystery across which we face each other. Though these sculptors have no face for me, they give to me the faces of my time.
My hands upon the works of their hands.
But beneath that astonishment is a great gulf that we cannot cross. While they dream of me and my fellows, I do not dream so easily of them. Even dreaming, we touch only over the span of millenia, over the remnants of what they have left behind.
Here the great wild mountains loom, here these moments are precious and disparate, here these buried treasures rise but without context. This dream does not satisfy but astonishes.
I want to tell a story, I can’t help but start to tell a story, but the astonishment remembered, the mountains rising high, make the story small, a treasure I can share with those who crawl through these great mountains with me, but not one equal to the astonishment and majesty.
I can tell you a story, doctor, but it is for you and not the great mountains.
I’ve been thinking a bit about the four dreams I mentioned in the last post on synchronicity and I want to take a little time with each of them on their own terms. I want to go at this old school, taking this from the “if this were my dream” approach. There is a value in the dreaming, even when it derives from a nameless source because there is no absolutely firm line between one person’s dreaming and another person’s; they aren’t the same thing for different people, but they join us. Friction oracles, again.