Talking about the sefirah and the sippur yetzihas Mitzrayim reminds me that I have a little notebook post that I have wanted to make for a while about Pharaoh as a spiritual power. His redemption at the last moment forms part of Ibn al’Arabi’s account of Moses in the Bezels of Wisdom, making him something like a mediating power between the necromantic absorption of Mitzrayim’s wisdom. He also shows up in the Justin’s Baruch as the tenth angel of Mother Eden.
On a recent family trip to Boston, we spent some time walking through the McKim Building of the Boston Public Library. I wasn’t at all prepared for how spiritual experience it would be—my sister had suggested it because there were supposed to be some good murals to see. They were that, but the entire structure was wired for sound, built up like a temple as much, or more than, a library. By the time I got to the top floor, to the John Singer Sargent murals, my mind reeled with excitement. This was a place that anchored a peculiarly Euro-American vision in deep and old mysteries that transcend them.
I wonder if the place could be set in motion ritually, set to humming, or if it is primarily a place capable of triggering latent patterns in the person contemplating them, but either way it is an amazing structure. I overlooked the gallery dedicated to time, but hopefully there will be another opportunity. As it is, I want to talk about what I did see and start to unpack the wisdom packed into it. I do so first and foremost for someone who might go to the building and use this to intensify their experience of it. Secondarily, though, I hope that the insights will have some general application even for someone who hasn’t experienced the building.
To do that is going to take quite a long post since I will need to talk about both the exoteric and esoteric dimensions of each gallery. Please, avail yourself of the title links to look at the actual murals; the Boston Public Library has a lot of other material beyond what I’m linking, so let yourself wander a little.
I often find it easier to think about time in terms of space, in terms of the way we can abstract and spatialize time for a number of broadly mathematical operations. I think that’s pretty common, because we are better suited to conceiving of space than we are to conceiving of time. We can use our better grasp of space to ‘sneak up’ on time.
I’ve talked about the snake thing before. It’s a through line for me and I continue to marvel at its vivacity. Refutation of All Heresies* devotes the entirety of Book 5 to different expressions of serpentine gnosis. It’s not a small section of the Refutation, coming to some 80 pages of translated material. The text is divided between four main sects identified as Naassenes, Peratai, Sethians (not the same gnostic group identified by many contemporary scholars as Sethian), and the followers of Justin.
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.
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.
I have been a bit under the weather for a few days, so please pardon me if this post meanders more so than usual. Between some illness-inflected dreams and what little headway I have made in Word and Image in Medieval Kabbalah over the last few days, I have Moses on my mind and I thought it might make sense to talk a little about why.