[NB] Geomancy: Some Historical Bibliography

[Another page being translated into a post.]

I hesitated about posting this. It is tangential to the development of my personal geomantic practice and mostly reflects a time in my life when I had a time on my hands and needed a distraction. I have had a request for more bibliographical information, though, and it is a part of my intellectual development.

This bibliography represents a meaningful cross-section of the material that I have read in an effort to develop some sense of how geomantic techniques developed and circulated historically. It isn’t a full bibliography of my reading, but it’s definitely a substantive portion of it.

Most of this material relates directly to geomantic practices, while some of it relates to (1) individuals and groups that might have participated in the circulation of geomantic practices, (2) historiographic material informing how intellectual practices develop in dialogue with each other, or (3) scientific conceptions of the evolution of language and religion that inform the transmission of ritual practices, especially those like geomancy.

Works on various facets of West African culture predominate, reflecting where I first encountered geomancy as well as my general sense that West Africa represents one of the richest and most vital centers of the practice.

Inclusion does not constitute endorsement. Continue reading “[NB] Geomancy: Some Historical Bibliography”

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?

Continue reading “Magical History”

Moses Redux

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.

Continue reading “Moses Redux”

[NB] Sefer Yetzirah historical notes: trees and recensions

I realized recently that I didn’t have a solid grasp on the historical horizon of the SY’s transmission, so I thought to do a little more digging. That is where I came across Segol’s Word and Image in Medieval Kabbalism. It is a compact work of scholarship—a fair amount of information and argument in a very brief monograph. I’ve already talked a little about what that has set me to thinking about, but I want to flag a few other details that might be useful and/or interesting in thinking about the SY.

Continue reading “[NB] Sefer Yetzirah historical notes: trees and recensions”

[NB] What I’m Thinking About Going into the New Year

When I have sat down the last few days to start drafting a post, I find that there is a lot going on in my head at the moment. I will start writing a post about one thing, only to discover it morphing into a discussion of yet another thing. I’m not exactly complaining as it is a little refreshing to have the ideas flowing, but it’s going to take some discipline and work to extract cogent posts from that flow.

In the meantime, here are some of the things that have been setting my thoughts in motion.

Continue reading “[NB] What I’m Thinking About Going into the New Year”

Scholarly Witchcraft

Witchcraft as I tend to think of it seems to do its best work when perched at the boundary between destruction and creation. It takes apart, but it also infuses what has been taken apart with new force, new potency. Witchcraft is an art of decline, but it is also the art of rebirth. If I were pushed into saying why this is the case, I would say that it is because witchcraft is concerned with the life of the world, the cosmos, the life that precedes and exceeds the life of individuals. The work of destruction is done for the sake of that life, in much the same way as its serving as the ancilla of creation.

Continue reading “Scholarly Witchcraft”

American Babylon

I often feel like the indigenous American contributions to global occultism get short schrift. In the early phase, they were concealed by the pseudo-ethnographic attitude taken by Europeans, the sort of exciting and titillating tales that fueled occult fantasies (much like the latter New Age fantasises, which are often built atop older layers of European fantasy) but not in a way that could be easily identified. This was compounded by the devestation wrought on the cultures by disease and imperial disruption.

Continue reading “American Babylon”

Other Futures

There’s a dream I had about Dr. Who that has stuck with me. It took place in the future, with the 7th Doctor and Ace. The world was divided between the haves and have-nots, with the haves living in an arcology that was sealed off every night from the degrading cityscape around it.

At the center of the dream were these street children sheltering in a large theater-like structure; the megafauna that roamed the streets made it unsafe to be outdoors at night. On the outside of the structure were signs along the porch to indicate what was going on inside. Inside, there was this elaborate ritual with candles, prayers, offerings, orchestrated around chalk drawings on the floor that fell somewhere between firmas and particle trace diagrams, complete with mathematical formulas purporting to describe the diagrams.

Continue reading “Other Futures”

Toward a History of Geomancy

[Edited gently for clarity January 2017]
There are two major contenders for the source of the geomancy’s dispersion in the last couple of millenia: West Africa or the Middle East. It is quite possible that neither are the final origin, that a still older cultural substratum pre-exists both. What we can say about that older substratum, if it exists, will nonetheless require us to pass through its more recent points of transmission.

Continue reading “Toward a History of Geomancy”

[NB] Future Present, W. B. Yeats

“The decadence will descend, by perpetual moral improvement….The decadence of the Greco-Roman world with its violent soldiers and its mahogany dark young athletes was as great, but that suggested the bubbles of life turned into marbles, whereas what awaits us…may suggest bubbles in a frozen pond—mathematical Babylonian starlight.”—W. B. Yeats, A Vision (176)

Spiritualism is full of prognoses for the future of mankind, ranging from the unbelievably optimistic to the unbelievably grim. Given that I don’t entirely take the linear direction of our lives in history to be all there is and that I take the nonlinear elements to have an influence on the linear elements, I have a hard time taking any pronouncement on the future as final.

Continue reading “[NB] Future Present, W. B. Yeats”