[NB] Grimoire and Reception + Life in Death

Just some more “what I am reading from around the web” posting.

While we seem to have a much better sense of the early modern grimoire archive (e.g., Owen Davies’s Grimoires), of the history of the grimoires as commodities in circulation, I still haven’t seen a lot that gives us insight into the reception and lifeworld of those grimoires (though that could be simple ignorance on my part). Though not about grimoires proper, the role played by literacy and self-education in The Cheese and the Worms provides a useful point of departure for that line of thought.In a peculiar fashion, The Dictionary of the Khazars is another such opportunity.

This article seems like another avenue. While it does not address grimoires directly, it opens a window into the early modern publishing world in which grimoires circulated and to which both authors and publishers would have their expectations set. Positioning grimoires and grimoire spirits as part of the advancement of secularism and an early do-it-yourself sensibility…well, that fits nicely with entertaining the possibility that school networks might have facilitated the transmission of some grimoire materials and captures some of the Promethean, fire-stealing elements of the spirits.

Then there is this window into work going on around the study of the dead and what happens in the body after death. How is this for a curiosity:

“Some genetic activity, like a gene that’s responsible for embryonic development, baffled the scientists. Noble suspects that this gene becomes active because the cellular environment in dead bodies must somehow resemble those found in embryos.”

Gives new meaning to the phrase from womb to tomb.

Magical History

Very early on in her book on medieval Kabbalism, Marla Segol raises her concerns regarding ‘popular Kabbalism’ in a footnote (the first, in fact). She addresses two prominent and popular figures in specific, the Bergs who run the Kabbalah Centre and Aryeh Kaplan. Her concerns are the concerns of a historian, but they raise an important question for spiritual-magical practitioners who are trying to remain historically informed.

More pointedly, it raises an important question for this practitioner, whose work has crisscrossed both the work of the Kabbalah Centre and of Aryeh Kaplan (much more the latter than the former, but I won’t deny either influence). I don’t take that influence to amount to an uncritical endorsement of either, but the way in which Segol attempts to exclude both from the outset troubles me.

At what points do historical and magical study converge and at what points do they diverge? How do we make use of historical information to inform our personal and communal practices?

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[NB] Spirit Grammar

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.

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[NB] Grimoires and Kabbalism

The work with the seal strengthens my conviction that the references to ‘Cabala’ in some of the grimoires isn’t just for show, it isn’t just a word that magicians were dropping in their texts because it sounded mysterious. It seems reasonable to consider that one of the channels opened by the Kabbalistic work (and if not precisely the Kabbalistic strain, then one of its relatives) constitutes for itself the grimoiric world.

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[NB] Da’ath and Gevurah in the Amidah

This is bone simple notebooking, but I want to keep track of this anyway. One of the things I have been trying to keep in mind as I read the Kabbalistic material is that there are going to be parts that are less intuitive for me because they reference, implicitly, daily practices and everyday concepts from Judaism.

One of the things I have been doing to rectify that a little is read through the Amidah. Besides being core liturgical material, it has likely been recited in close to its contemporary form for nearly two millenia (and probably recited in recognizable form for centuries before that).

I have to muddle through this sort of thing pretty slowly, looking at Hebrew text and some translations of them, then digging around to verify and expand upon details. I welcome the input of folks with Hebrew fluency (because I effectively have none).

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Escape to New York

I went up to New York this weekend to enjoy A Day of Conjure and Cunning Craft. It’s part of a concerted effort to de-hermit a little (I’m not great at it; when it comes to socializing, I’m cultivating dumb but dogged). Since I was already up there, I did a little out and about the city. There is a fair amount I want to talk about with that, but for this post I’ll just talk a little about the conference itself.

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[NB] “I do solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

I picked up The Book of Oberon recently. It’s a real beauty of a book—clean and attractive illustrations of all the figures and sigils, Latin and English translations of the orations, and excellent front matter from the editors contextualizing the work and its discovery.

One thing caught my eye specifically in the front matter. As they were talking about the creation of the hazel wand, they noted that this had clear ties to the disciplining used in the school system. The selection of a young, flexible, branch of hazel was also encouraged for teachers, because its flexibility gave it a sting without inflicting serious injury, contrary to the staff.

Continue reading “[NB] “I do solemnly swear that I am up to no good.””

[NB] Sumerian Diasporas Continued

Since writing this post on burial and necromancy, I have kept tabs on the material I’m reading for evidence about the intersection of the strands of the goetic / magian diasporas. Rereading the Image of the Netherworld in Sumerian Sources put another strand into that, one attached to female mourning traditions.

A recent jaunt through Sarah Iles Johnston’s discussion of the same in Restless Dead suggests some refinements to that account. Like what the Sumerian material suggested, the Greek material suggests a rivalry between masculine necromancers and female mourners. Johnston’s Greece adds a wrinkle to that dynamic, because while the male necromantic traditions are imported into the region, the female mourning traditions seem to be well-established and functionally indigenous.

Continue reading “[NB] Sumerian Diasporas Continued”

The Body of Fate composed of people and books

“It is likely that no one ever masters anything in which he has not known impotence; and if you agree, you will also see that this impotence comes not at the beginning of or before the struggle with the subject, but in the heart of it.”—Walter Benjamin, “A Berlin Chronicle” in Reflections (4)

Finding this quote set me to flipping pleasantly through the pages of Reflections. Ah, Benjamin, such a pleasure. The double movement of Benjamin into the city and into his past, the opacity of its material forces and the opacity of his family wealth…well, if I wonder down this side street, I might never get to what I want to write about.

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[NB] Rite and Record

There are two things that I am thinking about right now that are trying to come together, so I am going to try to write my way to that.

First thing: one of the challenges of talking about spiritualist-driven practice entails attending to the concrete reality that underpins it, namely the way in which the diversity in our personal constitution has a direct impact on the way in which we can most effectively interact with the world of spirit. The point of identifying a person’s spiritual court, for example, derives from the sense that it varies from person to person and that the variation demands accompanying variations in practice.

Second thing: that historically, most forms of marginal spiritual practice has been magpie. I was thinking about this in light of my last post, in which I mentioned the way in which a single grimoiric ritual broke free of its grimoiric context and proceeded to circulate through numerous distinct occult practices, varying to accommodate the practices. And, too, in light of the way it makes sense to talk about the unity of the grimoires in a statistical sense, in terms of overlapping patterns of names and rites that are broadly shared by many grimoires alongside a set of rites and names that are particular to this or that grimoire.

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