I spend a fair bit of my time trying to parse out the Neoplatonic inflections from the Kabbalistic material I am studying, but it’s worth keeping in mind the antiquity of the interactions between the two streams of thought. In part, that is just being intellectually honest. In part, though, it is also because there may be useful Kabbalistic insights entangled in more syncretic models. So, two texts to share and briefly comment on, one from the medieval period, the other from antiquity.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”—Gospel of John 15:1–4 (King James Version)
I am becoming quite fond of reading the New Testament Kabbalistically. It goes places and it not only makes sense of some personal gnosis, but has served to amplify and intensify the work with it. This particular quote provides an occasion to revisit the topic of idolatry (hardly a new subject here). Read, especially, the sacking of the Temple of Israel in this light (vines show up there, too). Or the story of Job. Vines, channels, fruits. Not one way to read those, but many, some of which intertwine with the Tree of Life.
There is one way to be alive in spirit and that is to be alive as a part of it. If you sever yourself from the whole, then you wither. Though I know it may be hard for some of us who have been inculcated with Christian theology to see, think about this as a statement from before Christianity was ‘Christian.’ Think about it as a statement about direct personal experience between a person and the divine. What do you have?
“‘But are you writing something serious?’ Note the word.
Fuck. If they couldn’t get us to write serious things, they solved the problem by decreeing that what we were writing was serious. Taking a pop form as “serious” is what you do if it won’t go away. It’s a clever tactic. They welcome you in….Next thing, they get you to submit your S-F writing to them to criticize. ‘Structural criticism’ to edit out the ‘trash elements’—and you wind up with what Ursula writes.”—Philip K. Dick, Exegesis (347)
Do you get the feeling that PKD never really got over Le Guin talking about him “slowly going crazy in Santa Ana, California”? He could accept her calling him sexist, but to be called crazy cut just a little too close to the bone. What Dick is talking about goes well beyond his grudge with Le Guin, though. Dick is talking about what we nowadays call respectability politics.
Two things, the first is a quotation from Simone Weil expressing her wonderment at how quickly the spirit of Revelation was lost, how it passed from being something urgent and mystical to something obscure and subject to weak interpretations.
“The Church does not seem to have perfectly carried out its mission as the conserver of doctrine—very far from it. Not only because it has added what were perhaps abusive precisions, restrictions and interdictions; but also because it has almost certainly lost real treasures.
As evidence of this we have certain passages in the New Testament of marvellous beauty which are nowadays absolutely incomprehensible, and which cannot always have been so.
To begin with, nearly the whole of the Apocalypse.
Perhaps by the beginning of the second century A.D. all those who had understood had been killed, or nearly all.”—Letter to a Priest, section 34 (65–66, 70–71 in the 2003 Penguin editions)
Whether it is a matter of massacre as Weil speculates or something less dramatic and more bureaucratic (say factions eager to purge ‘impurities’ from the Church gaining power), this puts me in mind of Lapinkivi’s observation that sometime around the third century or so, Christianity started to gender the Holy Spirit as neuter or male rather than female.
Correlation not being causation and all that, but I do wonder if the two were related. Once you lose the gendering of Holy Spirit as female, you start to unwind the metaphor that animates the rituals of sacred marriage, and a sacred marriage is part of the core architecture of Revelation.
My partner has had a copy of Alison Butler’s Victorian Occultism and the Making of Modern Magic: Invoking Tradition lying about the place for a few weeks. I’ve cracked it open and start reading at random; so far, it has always been interesting. Besides thinking that the book would have sounded sexier had the title and subtitle been transposed, it is pretty much all I could ask for from a scholarly book on the matter. It embeds the Golden Dawn in a broader historical horizon and it does so with frequent appeal to biographical detail.