Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Unless I'm Mythtaken: Sarai is telling me this story right now....

I mentioned in my post on ancestor altars that I'd been working with Sarah/Sarai as an ancestor, and I got some questions about it. (ps: I'd really rather you asked questions in the comments here instead of emailing/facebooking them to me.) So, here's a little bit about Sarai.

Image by Brian Charles

Here is the story of Sarai, as she told it to me. Obviously, this is heavily informed by the biblical account, and also by various archeological and scholarly works, particularly Sarah the Priestess and The Ancient Near East, which I highly recommend. All that being said, this is a story and I don't claim its a definitive understanding of Sarah (as if there could be such a thing). In particular, it is not intended to be a factual account of ancient Sumerian religious practice (in fact, it most certainly isn't any such thing). It's just a story Sarai is telling me, and so I'm telling it to you. You'll notice it slips from third to first person. That's a thing that happens when I channel stories; I've decided to leave it that way to give you a feel for what it sounds like when I'm inspired (inspire, remember, means "fill with spirit").  I recorded an audio version of the story, if you'd rather listen than read.

There was, in days long ago, in the city of Ur, a girl with a wicked father.  Her mother, a nameless slave, had died in birthing her, and so her father, whose name was Terah, took the baby girl to the market, there to sell her.  This is the story of many women, "There was a girl, and her father sold her."  Women bought and sold, used until they are broken, numberless nameless women rotting unloved in unmarked graves, but that was not this girl's fate.

Although the old goat, her father, was very wicked man, he was powerful magician, at whose command the mightiest spirits were compelled to quake.  Terah was the master sorcerer of the city, and that same power shone in his infant daughter's eyes, glowing like an incandescent coal. The high priest of Inanna-Shadai, the Nurturer, the Bountiful Breast, bought the girl, and called her Yiscah, because of her fiery eyes.  Power calls to power, and Yiscah was raised in the service of the temple, and taught the secrets of the Great Goddess. As she grew, her beauty and power only increased, and when she came of age, she became a daughter of the Goddess, the highest rank a slave could hold, and so she was renamed Sarai.  Although Sarai loved Inanna, loved to dance her dances, loved to sing her rites, loved to make love to great men in the goddess's place, and yet enslavement chafed at me and I longed, in my heart, for freedom.

Now, Terah, the old goat, had also a son named Abram, whose eyes shone with power.  Abram was beloved of El, the Destroyer, the Thundering Cloud.  As a prince of the city, when Abram came of age, he was sent to the temple to be initiated by a daughter of the Goddess.  Unlike the other young men, who came shyly, timorously, Abram threw open the doors and strode in, his head held high, lightning in his eyes, and Sarai knew in my heart that he would set me free. Immediately, I lusted for him as the dusty earth yearns for rain.  I sang to Inanna that her radiance fill me, that he might choose me to initiate him:

My vulva, the horn, The Boat of Heaven,
Is full of eagerness like the young moon.
My untilled land lies fallow.
As for me, Inanna,
Who will plow my vulva?
Who will plow my high field?
Who will plow my wet ground?’

Inanna answered Sarai's prayer, and I taught him Her secrets, ushered him into the garden of paradise. 

At the king's lap stood the rising cedar.
Plants grew high by their side.
Grains grew high by their side. 

Gardens flourished luxuriantly. 

When he filled me, it was lightning striking the black earth, and it quenched me as nothing else had ever done. I did not, at that time, know that he was my brother, nor did I know he would be my husband, I knew only that there was a power in our union that I had never felt before, though I had served as a daughter of the Goddess for several years.

After we parted, I dreamed powerful dreams for three months.  I dreamt of a Power beyond even that of Inanna, called El-Shaddai.  I dreamed that it was El-Shaddai who grew in my womb like a baby, that he, the father of all the gods, had slumbered there since before the beginning of time.  I dreamed mountains higher than the clouds and a river that rushed like blood.  I dreamed a great journey to a far off place.  I dreamed of children as boundless as the stars of the heavens.  El-Shaddai spoke to me of liberation, of an end to slavery.  He swore that would bring me out of bondage, that I would travel to a new land, a grove of Oaks at the top of a hill, and in their midst I might pitch tent of many colors, open on every side to the blowing wind, where I would sit and prophesy.   In the middle of the tent, I dreamed a deep well, the womb of the earth.  At the bottom of the hill, surrounding it, I dreamed a great market fair, where men and gods walked shoulder to shoulder.

I did not know it then, but El-Shaddai called also to my brother-husband.  What I did know, however, was that Abram was on fire.  The whole city was abuzz with tales of the brash iconoclast. It was said he broke his father's enchantments, smashing the statues that imprisoned the whirlwind spirits, the storm djinn, setting them free.  It was whispered that this army of djinn now followed Abram, not as his slaves but as his brothers, recognizing the Power that had possessed him, recognizing the eternal fire that called out to the smokeless flame of their hearts.

The night Abram came for me, the air was split by booming thunder, although it was not the season for storms. When he flung open the doors, lightning struck all over the city.  Roofs went up in flame; the city burned.  The priest dragged me to the foot of Inanna.  I do not know what he intended.  Just at that moment, Abram flung open the doors, the fury of El-Shaddai burning in his eyes.  Lightning pierced the sky, tore through the roof, electrifying the golden goddess, where she sat on her golden throne, melting her golden crown, so it ran down her face like golden tears.  

Abram knocked the priest to the ground, and we fled, hand in hand, the priest's curses pelting down on us along with the icy rain.  Abram wore the power of El-Shaddai like an electric cloak, and the curses flew from him.   I, however, held the power of El-Shaddai within me, and the curse buried itself within me, tearing at the life in my womb.  Blood ran down my legs, and I fell to the ground, screaming, made barren as the curse of the high priest of Inanna slashed and burned within me.

That's the end of this story.  Another one, I think, is waiting to be told another day.

Altars Intro and Ancestor Altars

I spent much of today rearranging, cleaning, and rededicating altars.  So, I thought I'd do a little bit of writing about altars.  The way I think about it, there are basically three kinds of altars (for which I have made up names).  Obviously, many altars are hybrids of these types.  Doubtless, there are other kinds I haven't thought of.  Please tell me about these in the comments!  I'd love to see pictures and descriptions of other people's altars as well.  Here's some pictures of my ancestor altar, as an example. (sorry for the glare in the mirror)

  • Shrines: These are altars devoted to a particular spirit (or egregore or whatever) whose primary purpose is to be a "gateway" through which to commune (or communicate, or worship, or whatever) a certain spirit or class of spirits.  For most people, these include statues or pictures of the spirit, but mine tend not to (except for my ancestor shrine).  Growing up Jewish left me a little squicked out by idols. 
  • Tables of Practice:  This name derived from "The Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals" (which I highly recommend).  In that book, it describes a very specific, relatively small table/box used as a location to summon spirits.  I'm corrupting the phrase to mean, more generally, a space permanently set up as a "working space" for doing magic (either in general or a of particular kind).
  • Showpiece: These are altars whose main function is to store/display magic paraphernalia in a decorative way.  Some people knock this kind of altar as "fake", but I think they're a nice if you have space for them, and they can also be slightly useful.  I like to categorize and curate my magical tools and attractive materia into showpiece altars.  By grouping items with similar magical "signature" together, I create a small space invested with that "vibration", so that other things I put there slowly acquire a subtle "flavor" of the "theme" by a kind of magical osmosis.  For example, I have a 4 elements altar/shelves.  Jason, over at Boundary Crosser, has a showpiece altar for the Seven Endless.  If we ask really nicely, maybe he'll write a post about it with some pictures.
Over the next couple of weeks, I'll write about different kinds of altars.  Today, I'll write about ancestor altars.  Before I say anything else, a huge shout-out to Andrieh Vitimus, from whom I first learned how to make an ancestor altar.  Thanks also to others, who also offered lots of useful advice.  There are lots of kinds of ancestor altars.  Mine is in/on a cabinet I inherited from my parents (which, growing up, we always called "the weird thing") and is sort of voodoo on top, and daoist inside.   I keep photos on top, so they're always visible, but the urn, candle etc I keep inside, because they sometimes creep out guests. (Guests who are not weirded out by the altar right next to the weird thing, with the preserved head of a black bear on it. Americans have a totally fucked up relationship with death, which I did not fully grok until my parents died)   I generally leave the cabinet open, except when I have muggle company or when I want to do something I don't think my ancestors want to see in my "chantry" (like, say, sex magic).  

Setting up an ancestor altar is very easy.  The first thing you need is a place to put it.  A shelf or small table is fine, or the top of a bookcase or dresser.  Mine has an "interior" portion as well, but that's not necessary.  Clean it thoroughly, both physically and magically.  Wipe it down with a nice-smelling perfume or oil.  Florida Water (a citrusy, floral, spicy cologne used a lot in voodoo) is traditional, but I use Jean Nate (a citrusy, floral, spicy cologne my mother wore).  Once it's clean, lay a white cloth on top.  (optional, but traditional).   Some features that nearly all ancestor altars from differing cultures share: 
  • photos or other pictures of the departed.  There is widespread agreement that it is VERY BAD to have pictures of the living on an ancestor altar, I think because it places the living person in the realm of the dead, and that can't possibly be good for them.
  • an empty picture frame  or "generic" statue to represent unknown ancestors.  I don't have one of these.  Right now, I don't feel any call to have one, but maybe I will in the future.  I'm not opposed.
  • mementos like jewelry and such.  Pocket watches seem very popular.  
  • Water.  Nearly everyone seems to agree that water helps smooth the way for the spirits of the dead.  Most people say this should be in a white or clear glass, but I use a cobalt blue one I inherited from my mother.  (My mother collected cobalt glass)
  • dirt from graves or cremated ashes.  I have an urn containing my parents' (mixed) ashes, as well as a jar with dirt from various ancestors' graves.  The jar is behind the urn, so you can't see it in tht pictures.
  • candles and/or incense
  • religious paraphernalia like crosses, buddhas, icons, bibles, etc.  I have the siddur (Jewish prayer book) my grandmother got at her confirmation.  I'm thinking of adding a Michael ikon for my Greek family.
  • small food/drink offerings.  Voodoo practice recommends these be made on Mondays, but I often make mine just before kabbalat shabbat on Friday evenings.  I don't usually offer alcohol, because my parents both (my mother especially) got abused by alcoholics when they were little, and so they were both (my mother especially) very anti-drinking.
  • no salt, and no iron.
In addition to your "close" ancestors, you can also work with "tribal" ancestors at an ancestor altar.  For example, I've recently been working with the matriarchs and patriarchs.  (Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)  Sarah/Sarai in particular (for obvious reasons) resonates with me.  When I first started working with her, I had a very powerful "vision" of a line of ancestors named stretching back from me, through my mother, through my Nan Sara (my mother's father's mother), back to Sarai, back to Astarte.  If anyone in Israel is reading this, I would very much like a small pebble or pinch of dirt from (near) the Machpelah (the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) to put on my altar.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Little Bit About Djinn

I will begin with a story.  Don't take this too literally.

Image by Greg Staples: http://www.gregstaples.co.uk/
In the beginning of things, after the universe had been created, but before it had been peopled, God (Ein Soph, what my grandma called "big G god") was lonely.  To ease his loneliness, he created the angels out of light without fire, out of pieces of the Ein Soph Ohr.  Think for a second about what that phrase means.  For us, its no big deal, light without fire, but the ancient world, night could be held at bay only with flame.  In that world, "light without fire" was miraculous; clean, pure, light.  Like the sun or the moon, the angels were created out of "light without fire" something only the greatest powers of the heavens provided.

The angels were created each according to its function; an angel IS its name, its function.  It has no real existence outside of that.  Angels are not really possessed of free will in any meaningful sense.  They cannot act against their nature.  At root, angels are messengers; they carry the messages of the divine will to creation. They are, in a very real sense, action without volition, light without fire.

Before long, God realized that the angels were not good companions for him.  They were not like him, they could not imagine, could not create.  They were not possessed of the divine spark in whose heat nothing is forged into something.  And so he created the djinn from flame without smoke.  This too is a radical idea.  While we are accustomed to the clean-burning flames of gas and alcohol fires, this was not the case in times gone by.  Imagine that the only fire you've seen is a dirty, smokey, sooty thing that burns your eyes and stings your throat.  Now, imagine a fire WITHOUT smoke; pure flame, pure passion, pure will, uncomplicated by matter.  That's what the djinn are made of.

So, now that I've told my little story, here are some details about them from myth and lore. Djinn are a kind of non-human, sentient creature very similar (or possible identical to) faeries.  They have individual personalities and names.  Like faeries, they are violently allergic to iron.  They are not, strictly, immortal in the same way that angels are, but they don't really age and they are hard to kill.  They are possessed of free will  the same way humans are.  Again, like faeries, they eat and drink, and can interbreed with humans. They live in wild places, and in ruins.  They fall into three basic "courts": some are pro-human, and generally helpful and beneficent.  Some hate humans, and are eager to fuck you over at every turn.  Some don't really care much, one way or the other, and mostly avoid getting involved with human affairs.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Valley Spirit

I got an email just now from J. who writes: I was looking for websites that discussed the similarities between arete and the dao and came across your blog.  I really enjoyed your renditions and would love to hear your interpretations of all the chapters, but especially chapter 6 as it mystifies me the most.

I think this must be the post he read: http://traifbanquet.blogspot.com/2012/09/aleph-and-transcendental-arithmetic.html

So, as requested, here are some thoughts about chapter six of the Dao De Ching, sometimes called The Valley Spirit.  But first, a series of disclaimers:  

  • I don't really know anything about Daoism (or really anything else), so you shouldn't put any stock at all in anything I say.
  • I don't even remotely read Chinese, so I'm not in any way claiming that my reading is even intended to be an accurate "translation"; it's just my what the passage inspires in me at this moment.  "Inspired" literally means "filled with spirit"; this is just what I feel like, right now, while I'm filled up with the Valley Spirit.. 
  • When I read sacred text, I really like to read a whole bunch of different translations.  I like this website, http://www.earlywomenmasters.net/tao/ch_06.html, which has several.  In particular, I really rely on the "Seal Script with Interlinear English".  I find the ideographs very inspiring.

  • Like all sacred texts, the Dao De Ching has different things to say to each person, and different things to say to me at different times.  Heraclitus is famous for saying, "You can't step into the same river twice; new waters are always flowing over you." but he also said: "The world, created neither by the gods nor by humans, was, is, and every will be a Living Flame, constantly being ignited, constantly dying to embers."  Like this chapter says, it's an inexhaustible gateway of mystery.  

Version 1
The cleft, the slit, the wet rushing river-valley of Spirit is never ending.  
Her name is Woman. Dark. Deep.
A woman's depths are a gateway, the womb of Heaven and Earth.
Eternal and ephemeral; enter her gracefully.

Version 2
The spirit of the river is never ending.
Her name is Mystery. 
Shekhina is liminality, the place where Heaven and Earth diverge.
Moment by moment She flickers into being;
and yet Her strength is inexhaustible.

I find this chapter reminds me very much of a gnostic poem called Thunder, the Perfect Mind.  Although the two texts are not related in form and only vaguely related in theme, they seem to me to be similar in spirit.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Kabbalah for Magicians: Quick Start Guide

I wrote this a long time ago for something else.  I'm putting it here as a placeholder.  I'll come back and edit it soon. 

Kabbalah for Magicians

Kabbalah is an important tool in the arsenal of modern magic, and one that is incontrovertibly Jewish.  We’ll being by discussing mysticism in general, how it differs from magic, and how to two relate.  I’ll offer some brief teaching on Kabbalah.  I am not way claiming that this is a thorough overview; these are simply the pieces I think of as being “prerequisites” for the stuff I'm going to teach you next.
Doubtless, you’ve already worked in a kabbalistic framework.  The YHVH meditation in my last post was explicitly kabbalistic, and so is the song Licha Dodi.  Kabbalah isn’t some sort of secret backdoor Judaism, its just a different way of talking about the same things.  Aristotle teaches that there are three ways to come to knowledge.  
You can know something through faith (pistis).  “Faith” is a heavily charged word in our world, but, in this case, we don’t really mean religious faith.  Quick:  What’s the capitol of Pennsylvania?  How do you know?  Probably, you know that it's Harrisburg because someone told you that it was, and you believed them.  That’s what pistis is.  It's knowledge you believe based on the authority of the source.
The second kind of knowledge is called gnosis.  What color is a lemon?  How do you know?  You have direct, personal experience of it’s yellow-ness.   In modern English, the word “gnosis” is used to indicate a certain kind of religious knowledge; direct personal “revealed” knowledge.  When someone has a mystic vision (or a powerful dream) that tells them something about their life, whatever they learned from it was “gnosis”.  When people say that Jesus is their “personal” savior, I assume that’s what they’re talking about.   The word kabbalah is usually translated as “receiving” or “reception”, but I think “gnosis” is a good translation for it.
The third kind of knowledge is called diagnosis.; as should be clear, the word is closely related to our word for puzzle solving.  Diagnosis is knowledge gained by pure reason.  Mathematical knowledge is a good example of diagnosis.  
For each of us, there is a hierarchy of “truthiness” between the three roads to knowledge.  For the religiously orthodoxly, pistic belief is the most unshakable.  When the scripture appears to be in conflict with reason or experience, it indicates that reason and experience are flawed.  
Most people think that they value most highly value experiential knowledge; “I’ve seen it with my own eyes.” Is good evidence for a thing.  Except, we all discount our sense information much of the time.  It seems to me that when I close my eyes, the whole world disappears, but I know that isn’t true.  
For me (and remember, I’m hardly normal, so feel free to disagree), reason is the real road to truth.  Count three apples in one pile, and then count four into another pile.  Put the two piles together, and you count six.  Wait, what?  Count them again.  Still six.  Split them into piles, and you get one pile of three and one pile of four.  Put them back together and you get six.   No matter how many times you repeat this experiment, you will never convince yourself that 3+4=6.  You may suspect you are going mad.  You may invent some wild hypotheses about disappearing apples, but you will NEVER determine that 3+4=6.  That’s because diagnosis, the fruits of reason, are incorrigible.  They withstand all experimental evidence.


Now, I personally have a weird religious relationship with mathematical knowledge. However, for the remainder of this lesson, we’re going to talk about gnosis; and a particularly Jewish kind of gnosis called kabbalah.  If you read this lesson, and just accept what I’m telling you, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  Everything I’m about to tell you is just pistis; a bunch of crazy hokum that some loony magical teacher from the internet told you.  Its only when you start to investigate it, to work with it, to experience it for yourself that you should even consider starting to believe any of it.  
You can choose to think about kabbalah as a deep, mystical way to interpret scripture.  You can think of it as a blueprint of the act of creation.  You can think of it as a roadmap to the divine.  The sephiroth we’re about to learn about are rest-stops on the highway of creation; they're where the energy of creation pooled and coalesced on its way, settling into the different forms.
One traditional metaphor is to view them as clay vessels that collect and condense the divine will, eventually cracking under the strain of Being and radiating the energy further along its manifestation. Chayyim Vital (a student of Luria's) relates these vessels to wombs, and explains their breakage as a combination of orgasm and childbirth.  However, for the magician, kabbalah is mostly useful as a set of egregores (symbol-spirits) that we can climb like a ladder.  
Let me tell you a story, a creation myth.  Once, long ago, before there was such a thing as time or space or being, God (Ha Makom) was everywhere, always, everything.  He breathed in, contracting himself to a tiny point (tzimtzum), and made a place for the world to be.  

Once that had happened, there was emptiness, without form and void (tohu wa bohu) as they say.  In order to give it form, God created 10 (maybe 11, depends how you count) vessels into which to pour His essence.  Then, He began pouring.  What did He pour?  God contracted Himself all up into a tiny moment, a singularity of Being.  But, even as He became small in space-time (which, as you recall, doesn’t even really exist yet), his Being still took up the whole universe.  From here, where we live in dimensions, looking backwards, it looks like this:  when God shrank himself all up, he became a singularity in 4 dimension space-time, but He still went deep, deep, deep along other dimensions, an infinite vibrating string of Being linking all things (which don’t even exist yet) together.  And, so, God breathed in, creating the Void, and into the void he breathed out this extra-dimensionality, the No-thing-ness (Ain).
From where we live, here in the world of ten thousand things, it seems like Creation brings Something out of Nothing.  But from the inside, looking out, where God is breathing (still, momently, always), Creation also makes Nothing out of Something.
God took another breath, breathing in the Ain, and out he breathed Infinity, Limitlessness, Being coexistent with the universe (which, recall, Dear Reader, wasn’t really there yet).  We call that Ein Soph, Unlimitedness.  
Breathing in the Infinite Being, God breathed out that first Thing-Which-Was-To-Be, and we call that thing Light, Light Without Limit, Ein Soph Aur.  The light expanded, filling up all the Empty with space-time, spilling into the vessels He previously created.  Here are the names of the vessels:
The first sephira (ordinal number), which isn’t really a sephira at all, is called Keter, which means “Crown”.  A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the first sephira is the King, but that’s absurd.  A crown is a thing the king wears, a signifier of office, they symbol of authority.
The next two sephiroth hang in balance with each other.  They are called Chokmah and Binah, Wisdom and Understanding.  They are the kinds of knowing we talked about earlier.  Chockmah is revelation and faith.  Binah is deduction.
Chokmah is the spark of insight before the idea is fully formed.  Some people will tell you that Chokmah is male, because it is called the Father, but that’s ridiculous.  Chokmah is female.  In gnosticsm she’s called Ennoia, the First Thought, the essence of Woman, Rumi’s Beloved, Simon Zealot’s love.  In Proverbs (8:22-31) Chokmah says:

“The ONE brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.  When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth.  I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.  Then I was constantly at his side.  I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”

Binah means Understanding.  It is the womb of Being, where ideas take shape.  This is the Word, the Idea at the beginning.  As Chockma is called Father, Binah is called Mother, and is deeply associated with the Four Matriarchs (Sarah, Rebekkah, Leah, and Rachel).  All that being said, for those of us who grew up in American pop culture, Binah seems male.  Binah is the power of discernment, of discrimination, analysis.  Binah is like a disco ball, reflecting the light of creation in all directions.
There is a “secret” sephira next.  It is secret only in the same way keter was.  People who count Keter as a “real” sephira see this one “Daat” (Knowledge) as “hidden”.  It forms the “triad of intellect” along with Chokmah and Binah.  Proverbs 24 says: “By chokmah a house is built, and through binah it is established; through da'at its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”  Daat is the center of the Tree, where all things are unified.  I think of it as a complete prototype universe, where everything is decided, and named, but not yet come into being.  If you’ve ever read the short story “Murder Mysteries” by Neil Gaiman (and you should), it’s sort of like the prototype universe the angels are working on.  
Below Daat are another matched pair of spheres, Chesed and Gevorah.  Chesed is often translated as “loving kindness”, but I like to translate it as “compassion”.  When the Talmud says that the Torah “begins and ends in Chesed,” I take it to mean that Compassion is the highest Teaching, and, moreover, that the highest form of Compassion is Teaching.  Torah (teaching) is a gift form the Divine, given out of Great Compassion.  This sphere is also called Gedulah, Glory or Greatness.  Chesed is the right hand of God, with which He gives.  Many people associate it with Jupiter, the greater benefic.
Gevorah (Severity) is the left hand, with which God contains.  It is the Letter of the Law, Justice.  If chesed is the sense of ultimate unity of Being, Gevorah is our sense of separation from the world, our Power to act.  Sometimes, people make it seem like gevorah is “bad”, a thing to overcome, but that’s silly.  Gevroah is our ability to overcome things.  In Chesed moments, we feel the call of creation as a perfect unified whole, but in Gevorah, we feel all the work that is left for us to do.  Gevorah is the lust for Chesed.
The next vessel is called Tiphereth, which means Adornment (in the sense of jewelry), although it is often said to mean Beauty.  Tipheret is closely associated with the Sun.  The Sun shines down on everything, making no distinctions, warming everything it comes into contact with.  It is the source of all life, and the mother of the plants.  The experience of Tipherth is overwhelmingly ecstatic.  When God said, “Let there be light,” the light there was is Tiphereth.  Christians see Tipheret as Christ, which makes perfect sense.  
From Keter to Tiphereth, divinity descends into Being. Tipheret is all sarim, all gods, the glowing throne-room of the Elohim.  It is the linchpin that unites above with below.  Tiphereth isn’t the center of the universe, but it is the radiating point around which our world revolves.
The next sephiroth pair is Netzach (Victory) and Hod (Brilliance).  Tiphereth crowns these two in the same way that Keter crowns Chokmah and Binah and Daat crowns Chesed and Gevorah.  Netzach is the victory of patience and long hard work.  Netzach is the work of  creation, netzach is love as patience and forgiveness.  Netzach is where Things take their Form.  For reasons that I do not entirely understand, Netzach has come to be equated with Venus. My boyfriend says I'm "afraid of commitment", so that's probably why I don't get it. ;)
Hod is the match for Netzach.  It means “brilliance” or “splendor”.  In Hebrew, like in English, the word brilliance conveys a sense of dazzling light and well as dazzling intellect.  Abraham Heshel says the experience of hod is that of Radical Amazement.  Hod is associated with Mercury, the quicksilver king.  I have a special relationship with Hod; it’s my favorite sephira, and so its hard for me to be unbiased about it.    Hod the sephira where magic is born, and the place where language begins.  While all living things partake of Malkuth and Yesod, it is our possession of the qualities of Hod that distinguishes humans from other creatures.
Many orthodox religious teachers will tell you that our culture in full of Hod with too little Netzach.  I could not possibly disagree more.  Niether is more valuable than the other, and both loose value with the loss of the other.  Netzach is an elderly couple holding hands, drawing their last breath together.  Hod is the moment before a first kiss, when everything is alive with possibility.  Real love keeps the two in constant tension.
The ninth sphere is called Yesod.  Yesod is related to the moon, because it reflects the light of tipheret (the sun) onto malkuth (the earth).  Yesod means “foundation” and it links and combines the energies of netzach and hod, giving shape to being.  This sort of creative union is (obviously) deeply sexual, and Yesod is associated with the genitals.  I hear tell that in Christian kabbalah, Yesod is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.  Yesod is most accessible Friday nights at midnight.  While the language I’ve been using is very heteronormative, please don’t take that in a judgemental way.  I can only convey these things the way I experience them.  You’ll see that heterosexual male kabbalistic (which is almost all of them) explain their sexual metaphors, and I imagine gay men and women will tell this story their own way. This is just the way I know to tell it.
At the bottom of the tree, the most manifest world, the crust of the Earth, is Malkuth, which means “kingdom” or “rulership”.  It is also called Shekhina, the Sabbath Bride, the Presence of the ONE.  Unlike the other sephiroth, which are direct emanations of Ein Soph, Malkuth is the light of the Divine reflected back from Creation.  Shekhina is the voice of prophecy and the inspiration of psalms.   There is a hand position associated with Shekhinah.  Hold your hands out, palms down or out, thumb tips and index finger tips touching.  Separate your middle and ring fingers on each hand.  This is called the gesture of “Priestly Benediction”.  Your hand should form a pointy pear-shaped hole between finger and thumb.  To me, it quite markedly looks like female genitalia.  The W shape formed by the eight fingers calls to mind the letter shin, which means fire.
Traditionally, this gesture is used by kohanim (a fathers-side hereditary priesthood descended of Aaron) to bless people with the so-called Priestly Benediction.  “May the ONE bless you and keep you.  My the ONE make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.  May the ONE lift up His face to you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26).  Personally, I’m not a kohen (in fact, my father’s not even Jewish), but I’ve had good results with this blessing.  Try it yourself, or find a kohen to do it for you.  You should remove your shoes and wash your hands before making the blessing.

So, now you’ve got some idea of what the sephiroth are, but what are they for?  How do you use them to do magic?  
When I was about 6 or 7, my parents opened a new office for their business.  At the party, there was a champagne fountain, which I thought was the coolest thing I had ever seen.  I was very excited by it, and probably got lots of adults drunk by pushing them to drink the many glasses of champagne I fetched.  Many years later, I realized that Codovera had the same vision  In Pardes Rimmonim, he writes of the sephiroth this way:
To help you conceive this, imagine water flowing through vessels of different colors: white, red, green and so forth. As the water spreads through those vessels, it appears to change into the colors of the vessels, although the water is devoid of all color. The change in color does not affect the water itself, just our perception of the water. So it is with the sefirot. They are vessels, known, for example, as Hesed, Gevurah and Tiferet, each colored according to its function, white, red, and green, respectively, while the light of the emanator — their essence — is in the water, having no color at all. This essence does not change; it only appears to change as it flows through the vessels.
Better yet, imagine a ray of sunlight shining through a stained-glass window of ten different colors. The sunlight possesses no color at all but appears to change hue as it passes through the different colors of glass. Colored light radiates through the window. The light has not essentially changed, though so it seems to the viewer. Just so with the sefirot. The light that clothes itself in the vessels of the sefirot is the essence, like the ray of sunlight. That essence does not change color at all, neither judgment nor compassion, neither right nor left. Yet by emanating through the sefirot — the variegated stained glass — judgment or compassion prevails.

Tetragrammaton Meditation

This is a good all purpose meditation.  I do it while I’m falling asleep, whenever I feel like I need to center or protect myself, if I feel like I’m getting sick, and as preparation for other magic.  It calls upon the “Tetragrammaton”, the four-letter Name of G-d, yod-heh-vuv-heh.  

Begin by finding a comfortable position.  Because this meditation involves mentally “drawing” on the body, it’s best to do it either standing or laying down while you’re still learning it.  Your spine, arms, and legs should be straight, and pointed down.  I keep my eyes closed, but you can also do it with your eyes open.  

Take several deep, slow breaths and relax your body.   As you breathe in, feel strength and health flowing to every part of you.  As you breathe out, feel your body relax, shedding trouble, tension, disease, and toxicity.

Whenever you’re ready, focus your attention above the top of your head.  Gather energy from all around you, from the heavens, from the divine.  Feel the energy coalesce into a glowing ball, about the size of an apple, above your head.  Take several deep breaths, and feel the ball pulse with each breath.  When the ball is pulsing in harmony with your breath, take a deep breath and…

Contract the ball down to the size of a grape and allow it to sink to the middle of your forehead.  Take several deep breaths, and allow the ball of light to glow brightly.  Whenever you’re ready, use the point of light to draw the letter yod in a straight line from your third eye, down the bridge of your nose, across your lips (like you’re saying shhhhh), and down to the hollow of your throat.

Take several deep breaths, and pronounce the sound yod in your throat.  Feel the energy vibrating your vocal cords, and the letter glowing inside you.  Take several deep breaths, and whenever your ready….

Move the point of light to your left shoulder.  Use the light to draw the letter heh across your shoulders, down your right arm and out the center of your right palm, and then from you left shoulder down and out your left palm.  Take several deep breaths and pronounce the sound heh in your chest.  Feel the energy beating in your heart, and the letter glowing inside you.  Take several deep breaths, and whenever you’re ready…

Center the ball of light at your breast bone.  Whenever you’re ready, draw the letter vuv in a straight line down your center, from between your breasts, through your abdomen, ending between your legs.  Take several deep breaths and pronounce the sound vuv from your diaphragm.  Feel the energy vibrate in your spine, and the letter glowing inside of you.  Take several deep breaths, and, whenever you’re ready…

Move the ball of light to your left hip.  Draw the letter heh within yourself, across your hips, down your right leg, and into the ground.  Return to your left hip, and draw the light down your right leg.  Take several deep breaths and pronounce the letter heh.   Feel the sound resonating in your legs, and the energy of the letter deep within you.

Feel the legs of the heh descend through the bottom of your feet, and deep into the center of the Earth.  Feel the crown of the yod ascending through the top of your head, up up up to the heavens above.  The holy Name is a pillar of light, connecting Above and Below, with you the conduit uniting them.  Feel the strength of this connection, and the easy and free flow of energy within your body.  The light gently melts away any obstruction it find, and leaves you feeling clean and healthy.  Take several deep breaths, and let the letters sink into invisibility.  As the light fades, remember that the Name is still there, inside of you, where it’s always been.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Nothing is As Practical as Theory

Letters from your Fairy Godmother: Nothing is as Practical as Theory

By now, if you started when I posted about it, you should have been doing the LBRP for about a week.  Let’s talk about why.  Seems crazy that I didn’t lead with that, right?  Just like in math, I think we all learn better by experimenting first.  “Geting your hands dirty” makes it easier to understand the theory.  I know that some magicians (including many chaos magicians) don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on theory, but I think its very important.  In the Metaphysics (which you should read), Artistotle says When the objects of an inquiry, in any department, have principles/explanations [archae], conditions, or elements, it is through acquaintance with these that knowledge [episteme], that is to say scientific knowledge, is attained.  I couldn’t agree more.  That being said, I’m kind of an intellectually pretentious douchbag (see earlier Aritstotle reference), so feel free to skip this lesson if you want.  
  • The first reason is a little absurd:  it’s the sort of thing beginner magicians are “supposed” to learn; knowing it will make it easier for you to fit in to working with other “serious” magicians” when you find some to work with.  It will lend you a certain “status” as a “real” magician, which is bullshit, but sometimes its easier to just play the game.  
  • Second, its a classic example of how classical ceremonial rituals are constructed.  Later in this post, we’ll do some deconstruction to learn how it fits together.  Understanding that will make it a little easier to build your own rituals.  
  • Third, and most importantly, I think it’s a very powerful and effective ritual, but its really a very subtle and complicated one that does a lot more than just “banish”.

General Structure of the Ritual:

The ritual has three basic parts.  The first is called the Kabalistic Cross.  It’s general function is “center” the magician, preparing you for the work that follows.  By "center" I don't just mean to clear your head of distractions and focus on what you're doing (although I mean that too). I mean to ritually (metaphorically, if you prefer to think of it that way) place yourself at the center of the cosmos.
In the ritual, you start off by attatching yourself to Ein Soph, way up above your head.  I assume you learned all about Ein Soph in rabbinics class, but here’s my take.  Feel free to entirely disagree or even ignore all of this.  No matter what a certain bible teacher might say, your understanding of God is entirely between you and Him; the only real way to construct such an understanding is through direct experience of the thing itself.  Now, with disclaimers out of the way, here’s the understanding I’ve constructed for myself out of my experience.
Beyond our experience of the world, there’s a level at which all things are united in one completely harmonious thing. Our ability to work magic is grounded in this; the "divine harmony" connects all things, and so every piece of it is accessible from everywhere else. I think of working magic as pulling the strings that connect one thing to another; the ripples flow out of me to the ends of the world.  
I say “harmony”, but that’s not entirely right, because harmony arises when multiple different things come together.  The ultimate nature of Being, however, is that its all just one thing.  (Never trust anyone who proports to be telling you the “ultimate nature of Being”) What I mean to say is: when I’m deep in mystic trance, I experience reality as all one thing, and its convenient, for this particular explanation, for me to believe that my experience gives me some information about what the world is “really” like.  However, that “level” of reality isn’t one where we can really function for more than a few brief moments (or maybe I’m just not “enlightened” enough to stick it out there).  Between there and here, say the kabbalists, are three “veils” and ten “emanations”.  I’ll talk about all of this in more detail later (or, really, you should do some reading on your own;  “Pardes Rimmonim” is a good source.)  Here’s all you need to know to understand the kabbalistic cross.
The first (furthest from us) of the veils in called Ein.  You know how, in a Riemann sphere, all the ends gather together at infinity, so that no matter what direction you set out in, eventually (after infinitely long), you get to the same place?  Ein isn't the point at infinity that closes the plane. It isn't the sphere itself. It's the higher dimensional space in which that Riemann sphere is embedded.  (I’ll write more about dimensionality as a magical idea another time.  Suffice it to say that, when a magician who isn’t into math describes something as “noneuclidean” or “higher dimensional”, they usually seem to mean that it’s in some way non-metrizable (usually because it’s not fully positive definite)).
The next veil is called Ein Soph, which is where the kabbalistic cross begins.  Ein Soph is the feeling of vast and boundless possibility that accompanies creating things.  It's the moment when inspiration has hit, but not yet resolved into any definite form.  In the Kabbalistic Cross, we gather up some of this potential, and manifest into Being, using our body as the channel.  That, after all, is the basic function of human beings, it's on us to complete creation.
After you’ve “scooped up” some of the infinite possibility, you bring it down into your forehead.  In the traditional Golden Dawn version, you say "ata", asserting that the potential isn’t yours at all, because you’re acting in the place of God.  The thing is, those are the same thing, but a lot of people need to be reminded.  (I think magicians who came up Christian might say something closer to “acting as an instrument of God”, but that seems silly to me.)  In any case, when you do this, you’re holding the divine potential in  your forehead, where its associated with a sephira called keter.  Here’s an important piece of wisdom for you: Keter doesn’t mean “king”, it means “crown”.  When you say "Yours" in the crown, you’re putting on that crown.
From there, you move down the central column of your body, and down into the earth.  Here, a kabbalist would say that your manifesting in malkuth.  Humans form the bridge between heaven and earth, between the ideal and the manifest, standing like a pillar at the center of creation.  
When you come back up and put your arms out, you're standing like a balance scale, with gevorah (din) on one side and gedulah (chesed) on the other.  There’s a whole bit in talmud explaining how justice and mercy temper each other, and how they balance each other at.  The only really relevant part for you is that, when you’re doing the LBRP, you’re the balance point between those two extremes.  Finally, you stand at the center of it all and assert that it will last “ha olam”.  

When you’ve finished the cross, you’ve rituallt announced to the world that you’re at its center, as well as sinking deep roots into the earth, the heavens, the left and the right that can serve to stablize you for what’s coming next.  You can do just the kabbalistic cross by itself when you feel the need to be more stable.  Some people also tack it onto the end of a ritual to sort of “seal” it.
This post seems unreasonably long already. I'll write to you about the pentagrams tomorrow.