[NB] Reading around in the Key of Mater, Wolf, and Lucifer

I don’t want to leave this place quiet too long, so how about a smattering of what I have been reading and thinking about ?

In what follows, I am going to engage in numerous comparisons that crisscross well-defined cultural and geographic milieus. I want to talk a little about that before we get going, because the comparative modality can both nourish and starve our spiritual wellsprings. In order to nourish our wellsprings, we need to preserve their singularity, their distinctive character in place and time. Think of the network of comparisons like a net of lights lifted up over the spiritual work in which we are engaged. That net of lights isn’t intended to catch hold of anything. If you take away the net, the mysteries they illumine are still there, invisible in the dark.

Don’t get caught up in these comparisons in order to put a name on something. As soon as the comparisons become a tool for pinning down a commonality between spiritual manifestations, we’re starting to head down a dangerous road that will have us worshiping the words on our tongues and the images in our minds rather than the mystery that stimulates both. If you don’t have a spiritual presence with which you are contemplating these comparisons, well, I guess this will at most be a list of historical curiosities.

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[NB] En Route to Colonial America

Just something I’ve read recently that set a few thoughts in motion.

“…[Zabdiel] Boylston and [Cotton] Mather explored outright the causative principle of disease. Mather argued for the existence of small ‘animals’ (protozoa and bacteria) that live on plants and mammals and, when spread from body to body by ‘winds’ or physical contact, spread disease. Seeing these ‘animals’ under the microscope, Mather began in the late 1680s to doubt the entirety of the Galenic system. If germs rather than sins were the cause of disease, then why all the concern with planetary movement and humoral imbalance?

An outbreak of smallpox in Boston gave them a chance to test the theory in 1721. Smallpox was the most virulent disease that New England ever had to confront, but its precise cause remained unknown. During the first two decades of the eighteenth century, Mather had read reports in the Transactions of the Royal Philosophical Society of successful inoculations performed by folk healers in Turkey and China. He had heard of similar treatments in West Africa from his own slave, Onesimus…Boylston and Mather inoculated 274 individuals with smallpox. Only 6 of his patients died, and probable not from the pox. Proud of their new work, minister Mather was shocked when Bostonians reacted with fear, throwing ‘grenadoes’ through his windows and threatening to destroy his property.”—Robert Blair St. George, Conversing by Signs:Poetics of Implication in Colonial New England Culture (196)

I keep coming back to this point in American history for reasons both historical and personal. Portions of my family history are entangled with this moment in time, but the greater expanse in which it is embedded is itself something of a microcosm for the present. Here, back in the good ol’ days, we have anti-vaxxers, working class dissatisfaction fueled by immigration, an elite dominating the urban landscape and pricing out an artisanal class, outmigration and outsourcing, and the intersection of witchcraft and science (the intersection is less clear in this quote, more so in other parts of the text).

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Five Books on Possession, Music, Language, and History

Remains of Ritual emphasizes, again and again, how gorovodu and religions like it are musical more than discursive. Friedson attempts to get at that through phenomenological tools, but he also works hard to give voice to gorovodu onits own terms. Reading through it right now, I’m struck by what makes music so central to this form of religiosity.

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[NB] The Ghosts that Haunt Me

I have been dipping in and out of the Friedson’s exceptional Remains of Ritual. The book is a delightful fusion of philosophy, ethnography, and musicology. More than that, Friedson takes seriously the world of gorovodu, reporting seriously spiritual and magical experiences, neither sensationalizing them nor downplaying them. While the book focuses on Ghana, Friedson’s work clear applications to the Americas and the dynamics that shape religious life there parallel (with differences, of course) those in the Americas.

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Pansophism Booklist: The Next Ten Books

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.

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[NB] The Ol’ Book Challenge

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.

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[NB] Side(real) Eye, Fallen Angels, Epochal Astrology

This post comes together at the crossroads of three trajectories. The first, mentioned in this post, is the potential that the Watchers are the zodiacal constellations. The second is Aryeh Kaplan’s (Sefer Yetzirah in Theory and Practice) discussion of the two serpents in Kabbalistic lore, one being Draco the constellation, the other being the ecliptic. The third is a vision I had a while ago around spirits dancing down toward the earth on the back of a great snake.

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Toward a History of Geomancy

[Edited gently for clarity January 2017]
There are two major contenders for the source of the geomancy’s dispersion in the last couple of millenia: West Africa or the Middle East. It is quite possible that neither are the final origin, that a still older cultural substratum pre-exists both. What we can say about that older substratum, if it exists, will nonetheless require us to pass through its more recent points of transmission.

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