I said I wanted to take this from the top, so let’s start with the big terms. Gnosticism is one of those words with a lot of historical baggage. Despite or because of that baggage, it is one of those terms that is difficult to use to identify a practice. It can mean anything from a very specific set of early Christian movements to contemporary magical practices with Satanic overtones. While there is a structural unity to much of the term’s diverse applications, that structural unity only gets us so far. Part of the problem with structures is that they are prone to inversions and re-constellations of meaning over time and space and across cultural milieus.
“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?
So, second seal completed, third seal perhaps on the horizon (name and boundary form at work), and I have one of those dreams that I know I’ll need to remember when I wake up because it’s got information I will need packed into its structure. I wake up and start sketching that information out as diagrams. Pretty soon, I have what might as well be the spiritual equivalent of a dance step diagram composed of interlocking and bifurcating triangles.
The more I look into the Christian syncretisms that developed in Mesoamerica with American thought, the more comfortable I am in asserting that the syncretisms were rooted in the deep and understanding appreciation of the Mesoamericans for the Christian mysteries. This wasn’t naive or protective (hiding ‘real’ Mesoamerican deities behind Catholic facade), but a visceral awareness that the celestial mysteries animating their religious understanding also animated the Christian mysteries.
In short: it wasn’t a Mesoamerican syncretism so much as a Mesoamerican synthesis, one mutilated by the inability of Europeans to appreciate and reciprocate the Mesoamericans’ insights. It seems, too, like this insight is portable, to other instances of ‘syncretism.’ So that what we are seeing is not ‘cultural’ in the sense we use the term, but ‘scientific’ (as a 19th century German might have used the term)—rational, comparative, synthetic.
This is one of those posts that started forming a few days ago and crystallized in response to this post of Andrew’s and this one of Chris Knowles. It’s the post about what it means if we take seriously the ideas that (1) we are constituted by a network of souls, only one of which is properly ‘our’ own, and (2) that what we do in undertaking magical work is open ourselves to a series of engagements with these other souls.
Reading both the Sefer Yetzirah and Orlov’s Divine Scapegoats has put me back on the track of reading through the edges of Jewish mysticism proper. Obviously, I ain’t never going to be a Jewish mystic, but it’s pretty clear I’m sharing some of the same intellectual real estate. Ha, back in the day, I remember being somewhat startled when a fellow grad student accused me of being a closet Jewish mystic over my reading of Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History.”
Let me get clear with what I take to be the most positive feature of the Sa’adia diagram: it provides us with the tools to evacuate the sefirot and see them as dynamic and productive faces of the eternal. The language of the ‘depths’ is evocative and apt: things come from them, yes, but they remain deep and inscrutable.
It takes the tools of apophatic discourse and provides us with the mean to apply them productively. While some folks looking in at apophatic discourse see it as nihilism, in general it’s use has been to produce positive experiences of the divine. The Sa’adia diagram frames that way of speaking exceptionally well.
Threes are all over this blog, such that it seems a little silly to even try to provide a set of links that would survey it. It’s an understatement to say that the rule of three in the Saadia tree of life excites me (I’m starting to feel like I need that blog post on autodial). I wanted to talk about it last, though, because I didn’t want to pin all my associations with three-ness to the rule of three in a bout of confused over-enthusiasm. This post is more calm that it would have been previously, but there is still a bit of enthusiasm; please forgive me if this post is a little more fragmented.
Lately, the basic nature of our perceptual apparatus as been on my mind. I keep thinking about how, generally, we see very little of what is actually in front of us, relying instead on our sophisticated sensory apparatus to fill in all the details we are not in fact attending to. I want to focus on the eyes for a moment.
Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” remain one of the lynchpins of my understanding of the relationship between the world of spirit and the world of historical reality. Benjamin disassembled a strictly linear notion of history, one thing after another, to emphasize the potencies inherent in the present moment, what he called the now-time (Jetztzeit), the moment of crisis that lays hands on whatever it can to proceed forward.