Samizdat

"Samizdat: Publishing the Forbidden."

On the Ars Notoria of Solomon and Apollonius.

“The Ars notoria, which is ascribed to Solomon and his “friend and successor” Apollonius, is a fairly widespread work of medieval ritual magic and theurgy. If we are not trained in the field of learned magic, we will easily mistake it at first glance for an innocent religious text, because the ritual of the Ars notoria is nothing other than an elaborated liturgical program composed of prayers and orations addressed to transcendent agents.

Only a closer look reveals that the text, by means of its large variety of prayers, invocations of divine and angelic names, and numerous rituals, actually promises intellectual perfection, learning, the acquisition of memory, and the ability to understand difficult books.

To use its procedures one must first practice a course of confession, fasting, chastity, penitence, and the cultivation of physical and psychological purity lasting several months.

However pious this text may seem, its emphasis on the efficacy of words and names of God to help the user attain power, and the purposes for which a user might turn to it— the acquisition of absolute knowledge, moral perfection, and unlimited memory— bring it close to other magical arts.”

–Benedek Lang, Unlocked Books: Manuscripts of Learned Magic in the Medieval Libraries of Central Europe, 2008. Pg. 165.

Omar Khayyam on Predestination.

LXXIII

“With Earth’s first clay they did the last man knead,

And then of the last harvest sow’d the seed:

Yea, the first morning of creation wrote

What the last dawn of reckoning shall read.”

–Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat.

Jung on the Prophetic Significance of Dreams.

“Just as the largest part of the past is so far removed that it is not reached by history, so too the greater part of the unconscious determinants is unreachable.

History, however, knows nothing of two kinds of thing, that which is hidden in the past and that which is hidden in the future. Both perhaps might be attained with a certain amount of probability; the first as a postulate, the second as an historical prognosis.

In so far as tomorrow is already contained in today, and all the threads of the future are in place, so a more profound knowledge of the past might render possible a more or less far reaching and certain knowledge of the future (…)

Just as traces of memory long since fallen beneath the threshold of consciousness are accessible in the unconscious, so too there are certain very fine subliminal combinations of the future, which are of the greatest significance for future happenings in so far as the future is conditioned by our own psychology… it appears from time to time, in certain cases, significant fragments of this process come to light, at least in dreams. From this comes the prophetic significance of the dream long claimed by superstition. 

 The aversion of the scientific man of today to this type of thinking, hardly to be called phantastic, is merely an overcompensation to the very ancient and all too great inclination of mankind to believe in prophesies and superstitions.”

 –Carl Gustav Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious, 1916.

The Zohar and Reflection.

“The author of the Zohar put on, when writing this work, several layers of disguise, hiding his own personality, time, and language. He created an artificial language, an Aramaic that is not found in the same way anywhere else, innovating a vocabulary and grammatical forms. He attributed the work to ancient sages, and created a narrative that occurs in a distant place at another time …

“The radical mythological descriptions of the divine powers, the unhesitating use of detailed erotic language, and the visionary character of many sections–these are unequaled in Jewish literature, and place the Zohar among the most daring and radical works of religious literature and mysticism in any language.”

“…. the Zoharic worldview is based on the concept of reflection: everything is the reflection of everything else. The verses of scriptures reflect the emanation and structure of the divine world; as does the human body, in the anthropomorphic concept of the sefirot, and the human soul, which originates from the divine realm and in its various parts reflects the functions and dynamism of the sefirot.

“…The structure of the temple in Jerusalem and the ancient rituals practiced in it are a reflection of all other processes, in the universe, in man, and within the heavenly realms….Everything is a metaphor for everything else….All of this is presented as a secret message, a heavenly revelation to ancient sages, using conventional, authoritative methodologies.”

—-Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 32-4

The Book Bahir

The Book Bahir, (anonymous, 1185), attributed to Rabbi Nehunia ben ha-Kanah, “begins with a few statements concerning the creation. In the first part of the book there are many discussions of the letters of the alphabet, their shapes, and the meaning of their names.”

“This work is the first Jewish treatise that presents in a positive manner the concept of transmigration of souls, the reincarnation or rebirth of the same souls again and again.”

(I had no idea that reincarnation had any place in Jewish Kabbalah).

 This work is technically the earliest work of the Kabbalah, based on three major concepts which are not found in earlier Jewish sources. 

The first is the description of the divine world consisting of ten hypostases, ten divine powers, which are called ma’amarot (utterances), which were known in later kabbalalistic writings as the ten sefirot

The second is the identification of one of the ten divine powers as feminine, separate from the other nine, and thus introducing gender dualism into the image of the divine realms. 

The third is the description of the divine world as a tree (ilan); the work states that the divine powers are positioned one above the other like the branches of a tree. But the image was one of an upside-down tree, its roots above and its branches growing downward, toward the earth.

These three concepts became characteristic of Kabbalah as a whole, (excepting Abraham Abulafia, who rejected the concept of the ten sefirot), and the presence of these three concepts identifies works as part of the tradition of Kabbalah. 

“In addition to these three concepts there is in the Book Bahir a more dramatic description of the realm of evil than those usually found in earlier Jewish sources, but there is no final separation between God and Satan. The powers of evil are described as the fingers of God’s left hand.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 20-2.

Prayers as Reflections of Intrinsic Harmonies.

“Rabbi Judah the Pious developed a unique conception of the Hebrew prayers, intensely mystical in character, which viewed the text of the traditional prayers as a reflection of a hidden, intrinsic numerical harmony that binds together the words and letters of the sacred texts and all phenomena of existence.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pg. 19. 

More on Creation Through the Powers of the Alphabet.

“The Sefer Yezira (The Book of Creation) describes the process of creation mainly by the power of the letters of the alphabet. It dates to the 10th Century AD, though it was regarded as an ancient work. It was clearly developed and edited for several generations before it emerged into view. The exact date of its origin is unknown. Some assert that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, while others claim that it was written in the 9th century, with Islamic influences. The consensus seems to be that it dates to the third or fourth century, but there is no definitive evidence.

The concluding sentences state that Abraham knew the secrets of this work, so it is traditionally ascribed to Abraham the Patriarch.

The Book of Creation describes a system of cosmogony and cosmology different from Genesis, yet cites no authority and rarely refers to Bible verses.

“The universe was hewed, according to the first paragraph, by thirty-two “wondrous paths of wisdom,” and engraved in “three books.” The “paths” are described as ten sefirot and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These sefirot are not divine powers….” They are “described as the directions or dimensions of the cosmos, (north, south, east, west, up, down, beginning, end, good, and evil), as well as the holy beasts of Ezekiel’s chariot, the stages of the emergence of the three elements (divine spirit, air or wind, and water and fire), and other characteristics that are unclear.”

“Early commentators interpreted the sefirot as the ten basic numbers from one to ten.”

“The central concept … is harmonia mundi, (harmony of the universe). There are three layers of existence, the cosmic, that of time, and that of man. Each letter, or group of letters, is in charge of one aspect of each layer.”

“Thus … the Hebrew letters that can be pronounced in two different ways–whose number, according to this work, is seven–in the cosmos, are in charge of the seven planets; in “time,” are in charge of the seven days of the week; and, in man, are in charge of the seven orifices in the head (eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth).

“The twelve letters that the author describes as “simple” are in charge of the twelve zodiac signs, the twelve months, and the twelve principal limbs, and so on. This model was used by subsequent thinkers to develop the concept of human beings as microcosmos, reflecting the characteristics of the cosmos as a whole (especially by Shabbatai Donolo, who used it to interpret the the verse in Genesis 1:27, indicating that man was created in the image of God).”

“The concept that the universe was created by the power of divine speech is an ancient one in Judaism, and the Sefer Yezira developed this idea systematically. The guiding principle seems to have been that if creation is accomplished by language, then the laws of creation are the laws of language. Grammar thus was conceived as the basic law of nature. The author developed a Hebrew grammar based on 231 “roots”–the number of possible combinations of 22 letters. He explained the existence of good and evil in the universe as a grammatical process: if the letter ayin is added to the “root” ng as a prefix, it gives ong, great pleasure, but if it is added as a suffix, it means infliction, malady. The author also insisted that everything in the universe, following grammatical principles, has two aspects, parallel to the gender duality of masculine and feminine.”

“The kabbalists … positioned this work in the heart of Jewish sacred tradition, a source of divine wisdom parallel to that of the Hebrew Bible.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 16-18.

Pablo Neruda on the Language of Rain.

“In what language does rain fall over tormented cities?”

–Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions.

On Jewish Esoterica.

Joseph Dan states that “A small library of about two dozen treatises reached us from the writings of Jewish esoterics in late antiquity dealing with these two subjects, the secret of creation and the secret of the divine realm, the merkavah. It is known as the “Hekhalot (celestial palaces or temples) and Merkavah” literature, because several of the treatises have these terms in their titles.”

“The most detailed work in this group is Seder Rabba de-Bereshit (The Extended Description of Genesis). The second main subject in this small library is magic.”

Dan refers to the “most elaborate ancient Jewish directory for magical formulas,” the Harba de-Moshe (The Sword of Moses), which includes “several hundred magical incantations and procedures …” from “magical remedies to love potions to walking on water.”

Magic is prominently addressed in the Sefer ha-Razim (The Book of Secrets). The third main subject is the description of the chariot in Ezekiel and other biblical sections describing the abode of God. The texts include detailed lists of angels, naming them and their functions, as well as discussions of the secret names of God and the archangels.

The fourth subject “describes an active procedure by which a person can ascend to the divine realms and reach the highest level, and even “face God in his glory.” The process of ascension is termed “descent to the chariot,” and the sages who accomplish it are called yordey ha-merkavah (the descenders to the chariot). These are first-person accounts attributed to Rabbi Akibah and Rabbi Ishmael. These sages overcame many dangers to “join with the angels in the celestial rituals of praise to God.”

The Shiur Komah (The Measurement of the Height) relates a list of God’s limbs, beard, forehead, eyes and irises, designated by obscure, strange, unpronounceable names, measured in terms of miles, feet and fingers. The basic measurement used is the length of the whole universe (derived from Isaiah 40:12), yet each divine limb is trillions of times longer. It is the source of the sefirot, the kabbalistic system of divine attributes. 

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 13-15.

Creation by Alphabet

“The ancient Sefer Yezira, the Book of Creation, describes the process of creation mainly by the power of the letters of the alphabet.”

There is a parable that states that four sages entered a pardes, a royal garden, to study these scriptures. One died, a second went insane, the third became a heretic, and only the fourth, Rabbi Akibah ben Joseph, “entered in peace and came out in peace.”

The expression “entrance to the pardes” was understood to refer to a profound religious experience of entering the divine realm and encountering God. The term pardes is derived from the Persian, and adopted in its Greek form as “Paradise.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pg. 12-13.

Origins of Jewish Esotericism.

The origins of Jewish esotericism derive from a talmudic statement made in the Mishnah (Hagiga 2:1), circa 1st century CE. It was forbidden to expound two particular sections of scripture in public, and hazardous to even study them in small groups. The sections are the chapters of the Book of Genesis, describing the creation of the cosmos, called ma’aseh bereshit (the work of genesis) in the Talmud

The second section was the first book of the Book of Ezekiel, called the ma’aseh merkavah (the work of the chariot), being the prophet Ezekiel’s description of the vision of the celestial chariot in Ezekiel 1 and 10. 

They were regarded as spiritually and even physically dangerous. 

—-Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pg. 11. 

Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction

 Joseph Dan says that Kabbalah can be considered:

a. The essence of Assyrian religion (!?). 

b. The essence of Christianity. 

c. Mysticism. A form of mysticism. 

d. A secret magical tradition. 

“Mysticism” is completely absent from both Jewish and Islamic cultures until the 19th century. The concept of mysticism derives from Christianity, referring to the mystical way of life, prayer and devotion that leads to a mystical union with God. 

Traditional definitions of the term describe “mysticism” as the aspiration and sometime achievement of a direct, experiential relationship with God. One characteristic of mysticism is the denial of language’s ability to express religious truth. “In mysticism, language is apophatic, a “language of unsaying,” language that denies its own communicative message.” Religion can be communicated using words. Mysticism cannot.  

Kabbalah is Jewish. Sufism is Islamic. Christianity was allegedly the original form of mysticism. And yet, “the concept of ancient tradition that permeates the kabbalah, and the sack that early Islamic Sufis wore, which probably gave them this appellation, have no parallel in Christian mysticism.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006. Ppg. 8-10.

Apuleius on Queen Isis.

“I am she that is the naturall mother of all things, mistresse and governesse of all the Elements, the initiall progeny of worlds, chiefe of powers divine, Queene of heaven! the principall of the Gods celestiall, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the ayre, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be diposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customes and in many names, for the Phrygians call me the mother of the Gods: the Athenians, Minerva: the Cyprians, Venus: the Candians, Diana: the Sicilians Proserpina: the Eleusians, Ceres: some Juno, other Bellona, other Hecate: and principally the Aethiopians which dwell in the Orient, and the Aegyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustome to worship mee, doe call mee Queene Isis.”

–Lucius Apuleius (“Africanus”), The Golden Asse, or The Metamorphoses, William Adlington, trans., 1566 & 1639), pg. 86. Excerpt from the 1639 edition.

A somewhat different version is excerpted in Robert Graves, The White Goddess, 1971, pp. 72-3.

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