I picked up a copy of Frisvold’s latest, Ifá: A Forest of Mystery pretty early out of the gate. I started in my usual way, dipping in and out of the book at random or as some specific curiosity prompted me (what does he say about Ogun? What about Òbárá Meji?). That left me with a favorable impression of the text—each time I came away with a sense of having my understanding both confirmed and expanded.
I came up philosophically under several phenomenologists. I was reminded of that when I spent some time in Boston where the used bookstores gather in their eddies the excess from students attending bastions of continental thinking like Boston College. It reminded me that there are lessons from that period have left an imprint on my spiritual practice today. Today, I have in mind the roots of phenomenology.
Phenomenology proper begins with Edmund Husserl’s epoche. The epoche is one of those practices that seems simple, even simple-minded, but can be brutally challenging and transformative in practice. Simply stated, the epoche is the suspension of ontological questions in order to more carefully examine the epistemological dimensions of experience. When we undertake the epoche, we stop asking after the existence of a thing and start asking after the nature of our experience of a thing.
This post follows the Absalom one closely, stepping forward in the material to look at another way of looking at the mother in the Judaic mythology, this time in the prophetic book of Isaiah. Again, let me emphasize that there are a number of good historical dimensions to this material (especially Isaiah with its even clearer historical roots), including questions of provenance and propaganda, but I want to keep those to the side while I talk about the mythological dimensions of it.
“Obiya is about your soul set aflame in spiritual congruence and in this way the Obeahman is the maker of his or her own ontology made possible by manipulation of the transmutative matter inherited in the cosmic matrix. In this way the Obeahman is reminiscent of the modern Chaos magician but instead of sensitivity with social paradigms he or she holds sensitivity with the shifting arches of creation.”—Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Obeah (37)
I keep opening the book to this passage and it begins to dawn on me that the distinction Frisvold is making here sits atop a rich vein of wisdom. The distinction between Obeahman and Chaos magician sits well with my own distinction between witch and wizard (obeah and chaos magic each being instances of the patterns). That in turn sits atop the engine of signification, of metonymy (esp. synecdoche) and metaphor. All of which lies cradled in the human way of being in this world and of using the world to see into others.
This may be something akin to neoplatonic heresy, but I am starting to wonder if the systematic properties that we often ascribe to the eternal realm only manifest in its interaction with the temporal realm. There are a few things motivating this:
(1) The way the Yeatses’ spirits described the lunar progression of an idea from a potent idea to a well-articulated conceptual actuality.
(2) Pantheons, with their organic levels of organization and hierarchy, tend to be latecomers to more disparate spiritual encounters.
(3) Some geomantic work lately in which it has become clear that the chart is ideally suited for mapping spirits of a certain size, and that spirits may be either too small or too large to be comfortably detailed by a chart. This puts me in mind of the Enochian work for a number of reasons, but approached geomantically this smaller and larger distinction lacks the well-defined structure of Enochian.
(4) Frisvold’s account of Obeah and the way it makes me rethink Zora Neale Hurston’s accounts of hoodoo initiations.
Which is a way of saying that material and temporal existence provides spiritual and eternal existence with an opportunity to develop.
That opens the door for a reconsideration of what occurs at the eternal level, perhaps not a higher kind of order but a greater degree of intensity. The order we imagine the eternal to have may be just that, imaginary, the result of our experience in the temporal world with the operations of the eternal. There may be a deeper sympathy between higher unity and lower disorder than we might imagine.
There is a question, too, as to how much systematic order is too much, whether there might be a tipping point at which the effort to describe an order becomes a vehicle for excluding the eternal. System as the limit at which point the eternal is excluded from the temporal order in favor of the temporal structures that the encounter with the eternal inspired or motivated.
System as the mark of the world.
I won’t bother overmuch with a review of the book here (it is good, it is short, it is worth the read for the interested)–this is, though one of his briefest, very much in the mold of books like Frisvold’s Exu and Palo Mayombe. He provides the reader with an outline of the history behind Obeah, the broad strokes of the scholarly ideas about it, and then dives wholely into the practice as he encountered it, amplifying that with his understanding of other, related, spiritual traditions. It’s good stuff and I appreciate how he uses comparisons with other practices–lightly so as not to drown out the distinctiveness of Obeah itself.