My reading has been all over the place of late, but the last few days I have found some of that coming together around some peculiar, zigzagging relationships between myth and astronomy. I had been reading about the Basque victory over Roland from the Song of Roland because I was thinking about a sculpture from one of my alma maters. Thanks to Stranger Things, I spent a little time over on Wikipedia reading about the birth and development of Demogorgon from a scribal error to a significant player in European demonology* to a monster in Dungeons & Dragons. Thanks to the Oatmeal, I have been trying to give myself another refresher in the astronomy of our solar system.
I have been working my way through a translation of Diwan Malkuta Laita (Scroll of Exalted Kingship) that Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley published. The scroll is a liturgical guide to the consecration of new priests among the Mandaeans and is full of tightly-packed nuggets of their particular Gnostic cosmo-ontology. Considering it as a well-preserved piece of a dialogue with other Gnostic practices from antiquity has been very rewarding.
(I’m not saying it is just a well-preserved bit of dialogue, for it is part of a living Mandaean practice, too. I am, however, outside of that living practice, so for me it is most readily accessible as evidence rather than as testimony.)
I want to talk about a couple of things that interest me about the body as an illustration of the sefirot and channels. While the doubles are given witness in the apertures, many of the diagonal lines are given witness in the interior of the body, suggesting a passage from the outer to the inner which are almost the inverse of the relationship of the planets to the constellations. The body’s apertures open into a dark interior where the organs are discovered, while the planets serve as an aperture through which the visible constellations acquire influence on the earth.
For some time, I have drawn an intuitive distinction between Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn on the one hand and the Moon, Venus, and Mercury on the other. That fits in fairly neatly with our post-Copernican understanding of the movements of the planets around the sun and of the Earth as the dividing line between these upper and lower heavens. It’s nagged at me, though, whether this might be a strange interposition between traditional astrology that puts the Earth at the center, with all of the planetary heavens above.
Reading Star Gods of the Maya provided me with an answer as to why this contemporary division sits well with traditional understandings of the planets. Mildebrath makes an obvious statement about naked eye astronomy which affirms the division between Jupiter-Mars-Saturn (JMS) and Moon-Venus-Mercury (MVM). Because Venus and Mercury are between us and the Sun, they can sometimes be seen to come between us and the Sun. Similarly, the orbit of the Moon can eclipse the Sun. The JMS planets, though, cannot pass in front of the Sun.
That is a small thing, I know, but it says something about the potencies of MVM planets that they can mediate the relationship between the Sun and the Earth as well as the cosmic potencies that define the outer planets.
While Orlov is talking through the broader Gnostic and Hermetic horizon that the Slavonic both informs and is informed by, he makes an off-hand observation that I want to highlight here. 2 Enoch contains an account of God setting the planets that runs counter to most classical forms. Beginning with Kronos (Saturn), 2 Enoch proceeds inward to Aphrodite (Venus), Ares (Mars), the Sun, Zeus (Jupiter), Hermes (Mercury), and concludes with the Moon.
I’m skipping across the surface like a stone over water. I’m skimming across a topic, then jumping off from it into another topic, then another, all the way across the pond. There is nothing complete; it’s all schematic. At some point, I’m going to turn back and start to take a look at what gathers to the ripples, at the still and stilling waters.
The talk of ripples is useful, too, because Kabbalists have also used a rippling diagram to model the relationship between the sefirot. Keeping that in mind helps make clear that the diagram is a model, one with limits, and that we will benefit from exploring alternative diagrams, too.
It makes me chuckle that the little PSA post I did yesterday got more comments, and more engaged comments, than much else I have written here. Clearly, I have to put a stop to that (I jest) and the only way to do that is to talk about the reasons why the Saadia tree came across as a bit of a revelation for me. This should be straightforward but more schematic than content rich. This is going to be a little fast. And you should expect tangents.
Except when it really isn’t. I put only modest stock in astrological divination. I have, however, experienced the influence of the heavens on the unfolding of my spiritual life. If that seems contradictory to you, then read on. This is the post where I unpack that. I am going to be a little critical of astrology, but as I’ll come circle back round to, I do that to make clear what else we can get at by pushing astrology’s boundaries back.
I mentioned briefly that the traditional assignation of metals and planets that circulates through much of the contemporary Anglo-magic scene isn’t the only one available; we have at least two Arabic variants readily available in the archive. This afternoon on a library lunch jaunt I had one of those little library angel moments and stumbled upon a book on the planetary connections made in the Mithras cult. Opening it, I found myself looking straight at yet another variant set of metal assignments.
I have made the contrast between the great ancestress and the Mithraic mode before, but I want to turn toward it more directly. There is something in it of the contrast between a feminine and masculine mode, but it is more than that, encompasses and overruns that. It reflects a fundamental difference in attitude toward the world and our place in it.
At its heart, the contrast relates to how they approach the mystery of the heavens. What I have called the Mithraic mode isn’t really just about the Mithraic mysteries. Rather, the Mithraic mysteries are a convenient hook upon which to hang a discussion of a certain kind of gnosticism, one that seeks to free the soul from the world and ascend beyond it.