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.
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.
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?
I have a feeling this is going to continue to be a slow period for this blog, in part because it seems to be an intense period for the rest of my life. Still, there are some fibers that I want to work a little, see if I can get them to catch and start to form some nice woolly yarn. Perhaps gathering a few more thoughts related to the book challenge?
The centrality of communication and community can be rotated, like a gem, to reveal other facets to the pansophist book game. I have talked a few times about how its practical spiritual work is loosely structured and leaves a lot of room for personal exploration and interest.
I figured out part of what I was after in the pansophism book posts. I was trying to get at an account of magic that would be engaged and personal without being about results in a narrow sense. I was looking for an image of magical apprenticeship that made community and communication its primary terms, its fundamentals, the point to which all work turned and returned. Magic with an ethos of care.
I had, perhaps, a longer post in me today, but one of our birds died yesterday. I want to be a little quieter than a post would allow.
Take care of yourselves and what you care about.
Ever since I finished the book challenge, I have found my thoughts wandering toward what someone should read after those ten books. It is all well and good to have secreted them away in a lakeside hideaway for a month, but what should they do for their continuing education? What should they dip into over the course of the next year?
I’m not sure exactly what I’m after with this thought exercise, but since it has been persistent I figured it’s worth a post.
I’ve always liked this oldie but goodie from Runesoup. My partner and I have probably played the game a dozen times or more while talking about one thing or another, and I have often thought about doing a post themed on it. But I’ve never quite found the angle that worked for me.
I have one now. What makes this one different than the previous efforts is that it feels like something that could lead toward what I do, but also might lead elsewhere. It feels more open and genuine thereby.
I have been using the Kabbalistic framework heavily of late, but let me come out and try to parse it out with less arcane terms. What the discussion of klippoth, of fall and fracture, help me think through are the mechanics of consciousness. I suspect Gordon is on to something when he says that consciousness is primary and spirit work is secondary, but only if we flesh out secondary and primary in the right way.
I recently came across a book, The Pheasant Cap Master and the End of History: Linking Religion to Philosophy in Early China by Marnix Wells. I’m liking it a lot—my main complaint is that the book deserved better production values than it got (typos, images missing, uneven layout; nothing that prevents the text from being useful, thankfully). The core of the book is a translation of a third century BCE treatise by Heguanzi, the “Pheasant Cap Master,” but includes a lengthy scholarly discussion of the manuscript’s context. That’s useful for me, since my familiarity with Chinese material remains rather shallow.
One of the small formative moments in my philosophical life came in a undergraduate course on Islamic philosophy. It was a one-off course for the department, the fruits of having been lucky to land a temporary lecturer who had a side interest in the topic. We were reading (I think) Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi. In the text he was arguing that one of the proofs of the soul’s separation from the body was that while we could tire of physical action, we never tired of mental action.
To which youthful me immediately called bullshit. I assume, now, that al-Razi was making a subtler argument than I gave him credit for, attending to the fatigue of the body capable of shutting down our mental efforts, but even now I don’t really buy that mental actions don’t tire us. Mental action, even when the body is prime rested and wakeful shape, can wear you down.