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Category: Magical Words

Inner Intention of Mystical Meditation

“This brings us back to the question of the actual content of the “revelations of Elijah” as they were disclosed to these mystics of Narbonne, Posquières, and Lunel. Are we to suppose that it merely concerned religious exaltation or revelations of mysteries of diverse kinds, explanations of one thing or another, visions connected with the Merkabah, such as could be deduced, for example, from the description contained in the document under discussion? In that case there would be nothing really new; the experience would merely add more information to a framework whose basic outline was already known beforehand to the praying ascetic.

Or should we perhaps see in these revelations a genuinely new phenomenon that was added to the kabbalistic tradition of the Bahir and lent it a specific character? Since we possess no reliable documents on this subject, it is difficult to answer this question with any certainty. Nevertheless, I would be inclined to interpret our reports in the sense of the second possibility. What was really new in the Kabbalah of the circle of the Provençal scholars and perushim, I would venture to guess, was their doctrine of the mystical meditations at prayer.

It was indeed apparent at the end of the last chapter that here and there texts concerning the mystical meaning of prayer or of specific prayers are already found in the Bahir and that, for example, a verse that plays as important a role in the liturgy as the Qedushah (Isa. 6:3) was there correlated with the aeons or sefiroth. But in the Bahir we are dealing with commentaries, not with instructions for meditations intended to accompany recitation of the verse at the very moment of prayer.

What is a new step and what surpasses this position is the linking of the individual words of the main prayers with specific sefiroth. This development gave rise, among the kabbalists, to the doctrine of kawwanah, which occupies such a major position in the history of the Kabbalah.

In his recitation—for according to talmudic prescription the prayers must be uttered aloud not only thought—he who prays must concentrate his soul upon one or several divine middoth. In this sense the kawwanah represents only a practical application of the doctrine of the existence of the sefiroth or aeons in the world of the Godhead. The prayer is a symbolic reiteration of processes that occur in the pleroma of the deity.

Hence it no longer resembles the old magical prayers that also, as we have seen, filtered through into the circles of the Hasidim and the first kabbalists. There too the person who prays pronounces magical words or holy names, largely incomprehensible nomina barbara that make up part of the text of the prayer itself. The kawwanah, on the other hand, represents a process that takes place exclusively within the domain of thought. It is most remarkable indeed that kabbalistic usage is, in this respect, very similar to that of the scholastics for whom intentio does not mean ”intention” in our usual sense but rather the energy or tension of the act of cognition. (The etymology would be derived from the tension of the bow when directing the arrow.)

The kawwanah of meditation is the tension with which the consciousness (of a person performing a prayer or another ritual act) is directed to the world or object before him. Nothing is pronounced but the words of the statutory prayers, as they had been fixed of old, but the mystical meditation mentally accompanies the current of words and links them to the inner intention of the person who is praying.

Among the German Hasidim the beginnings of such a process seem to be inherent in the prayer itself; among the kabbalists of Provence these initial stages led to a comprehensive discipline of contemplation concerned with man’s communication with God.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, pp. 242-4.

Procuring Dreams and Visions

Since dreams and visions in which the future might be revealed to the sleeper were greatly desired, the Egyptian magician set himself to procure such for his clients by various devices, such as drawing magical pictures and reciting magical words.

The following are examples of spells for procuring a vision and dreams, taken from British Museum Papyrus, No. 122, lines 64 ff. and 359 ff, (see Catalogue of Greek Papyri, vol. i. p. 118).

“To obtain a vision from [the god] Bes. Make a drawing of Besa, as shewn below, on your left hand, and envelope your hand in a strip of black cloth that has been consecrated to Isis (?) and lie down to sleep without speaking a word, even in answer to a question.”

“Wind the remainder of the cloth round your neck. The ink with which you write must be composed of the blood of a cow, the blood of a white dove, fresh (?) frankincense, myrrh, black writing-ink, cinnabar, mulberry juice, rain-water, and the juice of wormwood and vetch.”

“With this write your petition before the setting sun, [saying], “Send the truthful seer out of the holy shrine, I beseech thee, Lampsuer, Sumarta, Baribas, Dardalam, Iorlex: O Lord send the sacred deity Anuth, Anuth, Salbana, Chambré, Breïth, now, now, quickly, quickly. Come in this very night.'” (A sketch of the god Besa is given at the end of the papyrus. See the description of the “Metternichstele” above, p. 147 ff).

“To procure dreams: Take a clean linen bag and write upon it the names given below. Fold it up and make it into a lamp-wick, and set it alight, pouring pure oil over it.”

“The word to be written is this: ‘Armiuth, Lailamchoüch, Arsenophrephren, Phtha, Archentechtha.’”

“Then in the evening, when you are going to bed, which you must do without touching food [or, pure from all defilement], do thus.”

“Approach the lamp and repeat seven times the formula given below: then extinguish it and lie down to sleep. The formula is this: ‘Sachmu . . . epaëma Ligotereënch: the Aeon, the Thunderer, Thou that hast swallowed the snake and dost exhaust the moon, and dost raise up the orb of the sun in his season, Chthetho is thy name; I require, O lords of the gods, Seth, Chreps, give me the information that I desire.’”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 215-7.

On Mummification

“IN the preceding pages we have seen how the Egyptians employed magical stones or amulets, and magical words, and magical pictures, and magical names, in the performance of deeds both good and evil; it remains to consider these magical ceremonies in which the skill of the magician-priest was exerted to its fullest extent, and with the highest objects, that is to say, to preserve the human body in a mummified condition, and to perform the symbolic acts which would restore its natural functions.

When we think of the sublime character of the life which the souls of the blessed dead were believed to lead in heaven with the gods, it is hard to understand why the Egyptians took such pains to preserve the physical body from decay.

No Egyptian who believed his Scriptures ever expected that his corruptible body would ascend into heaven and live with the gods, for they declare in no uncertain manner that it remains upon the earth whilst the soul dwells in heaven.

But that the preservation of the body was in some way or for some reason absolutely necessary is certain, for the art of mummification flourished for several thousands of years, and unless there was some good reason, besides the observance of conservative custom and traditional use, why it should do so, king and priest, gentle and simple, and rich and poor, would never have burdened their relatives and heirs with the expense of costly funeral ceremonies, and with the performance of rites which were of no avail.

At first sight, too, it seems strange to find the Egyptians studying carefully how best to provide the dead with a regular supply of sepulchral offerings, for when we come to think about it we notice that in arranging for the well-being of the dead nothing whatever was left to chance.

For example, a papyrus will contain several prayers and pictures with appropriate formulæ, the object of each of which is to give the deceased meat and drink; any one of these would have been enough for the purpose, but it was thought best in such an important matter to make assurance doubly sure, and if there was the least doubt about the efficacy of one Chapter one or more of the same class were added.

Similarly, the tendency of the natural body after death being to decay, the greatest care was taken in mummifying its various members, lest perchance any one of them should be neglected accidentally, and should, either by the omission of the words of power that ought to have been said over it, or through the lax performance of some ceremony, decay and perish.

The Egyptian declared that he was immortal, and believed that he would enjoy eternal life in a spiritual body; yet he attempted by the performance of magical ceremonies and the recital of words of power to make his corruptible body to endure for ever.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 182-4.

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