Sefer Yetzirah in History, Practice, and Experience

[Another page fed back into the blog. Like the previous page to post, this one also has relevance to the upcoming series.]

I haven’t spent much time talking about what I imagine the lifeworld of these ritual practices to have been, what sort of events and intentions animated their organization as well as their dispersal and divergence. I want to correct that a little, starting with the Sefer Yetzirah (SY). This is speculative, driven by imagination and informed by historical and spiritual study. The image of the past derived from it serves a spiritual purpose, though, as something with which I can dialogue as I develop a framework of meaning that supports my work.

I want to start with some broad historical context and then proceed to the speculation.

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[NB] Fallen Stars

I’ve had them on my mind most of the week, since completing the geomancy page on the relationship to the tree of life diagrams, because I had to gesture to them there. I knew there was more to discuss, but I didn’t quite have the conceptual apparatus hooked up to the experiential apparatus, so I put it on the back burner. I can’t recommend that enough, really. Once you have taken some time to elaborate an important bit of work, step back and let the release of it open up the next step in the work to be discussed.

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[NB] Apocalypse as Mystery

Suitably enough, after talking about pushing the apocalypse back into the subtle world where it belongs, I sat down this morning with Revelations. I mentioned a little while back that I was pretty sure a more apophatic approach to the Tree of Life could be brought to the text and this morning felt like the time to gently start that process, see if my hunch held up.

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[NB] Shifting Crowns: Geomantic figures (2, 4, 8, 16) and the Saadia Diagram (3, 7, 12)

In the Meccan Revelations, Ibn al’Arabi distinguishes between two equal orders of numbers, the odd and the even, in answer to a debate as to whether two or three is the proper successor to one. Two is the successor to one among the even and three is the successor to one among the odd.

This sort of thinking can be applied to compare and contrast the (1) relationship between the rule of three and its relationship to four (2+2 and 2×2) that yields both the rule of seven and twelve in the Saadia diagram and (2) the relationship between the rule of two in geomantic operations and the relationship to three that produces the sixteen signs of the shield.

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As If a Tree in Spring

The grass outside my window follows the gentle slope of the earth toward the pond. Royal purple violets wind between the green blades, in some spots a trickling line, in others a meandering patch. Over the last couple of days, the dandelions have begun to lift their bright faces above the rest and the pine pollen has given the surface of the pond a sickly yellow-green sheen. The grackles flutter up and down from the trees, their tails held like the rudder of a boat and flashing iridescent green upon their throats. Here and there, the orange-breasted robins hunt for worms between violent battles with their brethren.

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Geomancy, Elemental Lines, and the Saadia Tree

I have talked a little about this, but I want to resume the discussion at a different level. We can look at the individual signs as a map of affinities, yes, but we can also look at the structure of the sign itself as a model of the middle pillar. To do this, though, we need to take a look at the conflict between the rule of three and the geomantic sign.

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Rectification

“Experience, which destroys innocence, also leads one back to it.”—James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

Placing the distortions I have traced out within the broader Gnostic framework of the Fall, of the separation of self-knowledge from divine knowledge, allows for a better account of what their correction entails. The model of distortion is also a model for how to move toward clarification. Clarification requires appreciating that correction is a moving target, that the world of time does not cease within our lifetime.

Understanding this becomes part of the process of clarification. If you want to reach your goal and the goal is moving, you need to know it is moving.

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Ripples

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.

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Husks and Helping Hands

Following on the last post, let me talk a bit more about what I mean when I say that the Sa’adia diagram might provide the basis for a better ontological account of what exactly is going on with the talk of qlippoth. If we look at the tree as a manifestation of the archetypal forces of creation interacting with an alien matrix that receives it (which isn’t Sa’adia’s point, but one to which his model well extends), then the alien matrix’s own being has to be taken into account. Far from a passive mirror, it responds to the archetypal forces of creation according to difficult to discern internal properties of its being.

On some level, if for no other reason than they are capable of interacting, we can grasp that there is a deep affinity between archetype and matrix. There are many dimensions to the matrix just as there are many dimensions to the archetype. Whether as a result of the interaction with the matrix, or on the basis of its own self-differentiation, the archetype manifests such that it develops multiple points of reflection on itself, the seeds of individual souls. Those seeds possess the same constituting properties of the archetype on a smaller scale.

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