Monday, 28 March 2011
You know that feeling you get when you read a book and go: “wow, I’m so in tune with this author”? I can’t remember what that’s like.
The project that I undertook to read 2000 pages of academic literature on Merkavah (Chariot) and Hechalot (Heavenly Palace) mysticism is nearing completion. It has challenged my beliefs, assumptions and knowledge as well as enhancing each in turn.
However, trying to overcome cognitive dissonance every working day for the past few months can have side effects. One of these is that whilst I’m open to new ideas in one area, my openness in other areas has diminished. For example, whilst I’ve read a couple of books on Chaos Magic I’ll admit that it did not appeal probably in part because I did not understand it.
Another example is that there have been a number of posts on the effect of belief on magic and I held back from posting on this topic. My thoughts are: if you need belief to make magic work, then believe. If it doesn’t, then believe or don’t believe it’s up to you. If you’re not sure if you need belief to make magic work, then experiment and convince yourself one way or the other.
Then Gordon comes along and posts “Why belief is the Wrong Word to Use” and I run slap bang straight in to my resistance to new ideas. It is like a spongy wall that deflects challenges to the supposed status quo of beliefs and ideas; perhaps it’s just a protective shell for my ego. Today I seem to be struggling with it more than usual.
But then I remind myself that one of the main reasons that I read so many blogs and attend lectures on esoteric topics is not to validate my own beliefs and ideas, but rather to challenge them. It’s also why I’m a Project Manager and (self-titled) Trainee Golem Builder, both paths are faced with constant challenges to self that require resolution and rectification.
So if you find yourself only steering towards sources of knowledge and experience that are in harmony with your current Path – then you’re probably on rails going through a tunnel. By that I mean that your route has few if any branch points and you are in an enclosed environment with fixed destinations. However a Path on the other hand is out in the open, you’re much more exposed and can branch off in another direction a lot more easily.
Given the choice I’d much rather walk a Path that is constantly being challenged that comfortably travelling in a bubble car through a tunnel from one pre-set destination to the next.
Friday, 25 March 2011
Risks of Building a Golem
In my previous post, I outlined the basic process for managing risks as a Project Manager. From finding out what they are, planning on how to deal with them should they happen and how to stay on top of managing your risks.
OK, so I get that the theory of Project Management is a bit of a dry subject hence this post to explain the risks associated with building a Golem. Actually I should put in the caveat that this risk register is by no means exhaustive.
First of all let’s start by asking: What is a Golem?
According to Wikipedia definition is:
In Jewish folklore, a Golem (Hebrew: גולם; English pronunciation: /ˈɡoʊləm/ GOH-ləm) is an animated anthropomorphic being, created entirely from inanimate matter. The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed material in Psalms and medieval writing. The most famous Golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late 16th century chief rabbi of Prague.Anyway, in a nutshell a Golem is a manlike figure of clay brought to life through the power of the Hebrew letters as explain in Sefer Yetzirah. So if you already have a copy of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s Sefer Yetzirah translation and commentary, you can look up Golem building in chapter 2.
During the Middle Ages, passages from the Book of Creation, Sefer Yetzirah, were studied as a means to attain the mystical ability to create and animate a Golem, although there is little in the writings of Jewish mysticism that supports this belief. It was believed that Golems could be activated by an ecstatic experience induced by the ritualistic use of various letters of the Hebrew Alphabet.
In some tales, a Golem is inscribed with Hebrew words that keep it animated. The word emet (אמת, "truth" in the Hebrew language) written on a Golem's forehead is one such example. The Golem could then be deactivated by removing the aleph (א) in emet, thus changing the inscription from 'truth' to 'death' (met מת, "dead"). Legend and folklore suggest that Golems could be activated by writing a specific series of letters on parchment and placing the paper in a Golem's mouth.
The other book that I recommend for people more familiar with English than Hebrew (myself included) is: “Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid”.
Just as a side note, Golem legends go all the way back to the Talmud and can come in the form of humans or animal form (such as calves).
|Golem in Prague|
Next question: How do you build a Golem?
In summary you need to master the meditative techniques in Sefer Yetzirah along with someone else which takes three years. Then you need some virgin clay, white clothes and to meditate on the Hebrew letters in such a way as to create a spiritual body. This is then infused in to the clay and brought to life.
The level of purity and holiness of the creator of the Golem has a large impact. In a story in the Talmud the reason a Golem could not speak was due to a blemish in the character of its creator. See the story in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 65b) or Rava sending a Golem to Rav Zeira.
Last question: Why all this background information?
Because I’m not sure all my readers are as knowledgeable and obsessed with understanding how to build Golems as me. Plus in order to understand the risks of doing a project, you need to understand at least some of the details of what you are going to be doing.
Show me the Risks already!
OK, these risks are spelled out using a 4 part description.
- Fact – what is the situation now?
- Risk – what may or could happen?
- Effect – what is the outcome of the risk occurring?
- Action – how are you managing the risk?
Now on to the risks…
FACT: Lack of knowledge how to build a Golem
RISK: May make a mistake creating a Golem
EFFECT: Physical or spiritual injury could occur, possibly causing practitioner to perish
ACTION: Study hard! (Mitigate/enhance)
FACT: Lack of available virgin clay
RISK: May not be able to find clay untouched by human hands
EFFECT: Either procedure fails or Golem could be malformed or influenced by the effects of the previous person to interact with the clay
ACTION: Research nearby geography, history and find an expert. (Mitigate/transfer)
FACT: Meditation exercises of letter manipulation are very precise.
RISK: Mistake could be made during the technique.
EFFECT: Either have to start again or effect could be that injury occurs to practitioner (due to forming spiritual body mirrored on own limbs).
ACTION: Need second expert to ensure no mistakes are made. Else have to start over. Hint: practice beforehand together. (Transfer/enhance)
FACT: Meditation exercises take a long time
RISK, EFFECT, ACTION: same as the above risk.
FACT: Golems are not supposed to be used for mundane tasks
RISK: Golem may run amok! Yes, amok I tell ya!
EFFECT: Golem causes injury to practitioner or bystanders. It could also cause property damage. If unable to remove writing that animates Golem then may need large amount of firepower to neutralize thread of rampaging Golem, especially if it is coming right at you.
ACTION: Inform anyone interacting with the Golem of this risk and its outcome, especially anyone who may be tempted to put it to use for mundane tasks such as catching fish, mopping floors and carrying wood. (Avoid)
FACT: Golems are supposed to rest on Shabbat
RISK, EFFECT, ACTION: same as the above risk.
FACT: Golems are being made obsolete by advances in robotics
RISK: Robots may be preferred due to easy of manufacture and maintenance
EFFECT: Fewer Golems and more robots. If AI is developed and it sees Golems as a threat, this could lead to robot vs. Golem warfare.
ACTION: Invest in robot manufacturer company shares when the impending war gets in to the News. Sell when the shares peak and then unleash your Golem army. (Mitigate/exploit)
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Whether you are starting an insurrection in North African country, ousting the head of an esoteric lodge or creating a new tarot deck - life is full of risks. The statistics around people injured or killed by household appliances is downright scary. So how can you improve managing risks?
For that matter, how do you make sure that reviewing your risks will not lead to paralysis by analysis? These questions and more will be addressed below including some example risks around building a golem (which any Trainee Golem Builder worth his or her clay is sure to have done already, I hope).
Project Management bit
Let’s start with some Project Management basics for risk management. Here is a handy diagram slightly adapted from the PMI (Project Management Institute) PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) 3rd edition, pp241.
OK that’s a whole load of information in one diagram so let’s break it down.
This simply means finding out what the risks are. It’s best to time limit this investigation as you could be writing down risks all day. One simple technique if you’re doing this in a group is to give everyone some post-it notes and pens. Then for the next 5 minutes everyone writes down one risk per post-it. At the end of the 5 minutes each person puts up their post-it notes on a wall or white board and gives a brief summary. Once everyone has had a turn – then you open the meeting up for discussion. That way even the quiet people get to have their say via the post-it notes before they get drowned out by the louder people during the discussion phase.
Qualitative Risk analysis:
Following on from the example technique for identifying risks above using post-it notes, now divide the wall or white board in to quadrants by drawing a cross with an X and Y axis. Label the X axis Impact (low at left end and high at right end). Label the Y axis Probability (low at left end and high at right end).
Then ask everyone to get up once again and move their post-it notes in to the quadrant that they think fits the best. For example, “forgetting to ‘deactivate your golem before Shabbat” is low probability but high impact. The probability is low as you’re not allowed to ask the golem to work on Shabbat. But if you forget and the risk becomes an issue, the effects of the golem running amok and rampaging through the neighborhood will have a big impact.
Quantative Risk analysis
To be honest I’m not an expert in Quantative Risk analysis as the organizations I’ve worked in have rarely if ever put a price on risks. However, the theory behind this kind of analysis is to work out what the organization should spend or set-aside to cover the cost of the risk happening (i.e. becoming an issue).
For example, you need virgin clay to make a golem. However, unless you know of a location where there is clay by a riverbank that has never been used before you may have to rely on local experts. Hence you interview each one in turn trying not to freak them out too much with your inquiries about virgin clay. The risk you assess is how much time and money are you wasting should you chose to follow the lead from the wrong local expert.
If you’re really in to Project Management and do it for a living or aspire to be one, I would recommend that you use a Risk Register. This is a ‘living’ document that captures your risks at the start of a project and is reviewed and updated on a regular basis. If you manage to do that last bit of regularly reviewing and updating then you are indeed a god amongst Project Managers.
Here is a quick explanation of how to address risks:
- Avoid – do something to make sure it does not happen
- Transfer – pay or get someone else to handle the risk
- Mitigate – take some action to reduce the likelihood of the risk happening
- Exploit - do something to make sure it does happen
- Share – spread the opportunities
- Enhance - take some action to increased the likelihood of the risk happening
Monitor & Control:
This separates the Men from the boys, the Women from the girls and the Master Golem Builders from the Trainee Golem Builders. Actually reviewing your risks and taking action is THE reason why all of the above risk analysis has been done.
Otherwise you’ve got a beautiful Risk Register gathering dust that is out of date within a short time period. To make matters worse, you’re stakeholders having seen the first (and only) version of the Risk Register think you’re on top of your risks and expect everything to go swimmingly.
Well, if you’re in to gambling it could go swimmingly. Then again, you could end up swimming with the sharks. A smart PM reviews and acts on risk updates. A smart mystic or magician uses their bag of tricks to get extra reducing negative risks and highlighting positive risks (aka opportunities) whether by using sigils, spells, prayer, amulets or other means.
Now you’ve read all the way to the bottom you’re a risk management expert. Well at least in the theory part - all that remains for you to do now is to put it in to practice.
Finally, this post has grown a bit longer than I’d intended. So I’ll add an up to date Risk Register for Golem Building in a future post. My closing thought for you is: “Now face the fear and do it anyway!”
Thursday, 17 March 2011
This Sunday is the festival of Purim, you can read all about it at Wikipedia. It’s to celebrate surviving the threat of physical destruction (as opposed to surviving the threat of spiritual destruction by the Greeks, which is celebrated with the festival of Channukah).
To get you in the mood for Purim, here is a recipe for Hamantashen.
Here are the usual Open Thread questions:
- What would you like to see more of?
- What would you like to see less of?
- Which topic would you like to see more detail in?
- Would you like to see more book reviews, occult lecture write-ups, practical guidance on Kabbalistic meditation techniques, translations of works of Kabbalah?
- Which articles are pitched at the right level for you and which assume too much background knowledge on the part of the reader?
- Are you interested in being a guest bloggers? If so, please leave a comment.
- Are you interested in participating in an occult bloggers carnival?
Recently there were two very interesting discussions in the blogosphere about syncretism and energy / consciousness that could be labelled as an unintended bloggers carnival. I say unintended as it was not planned but rather spontaneous. Now imagine what would happen if a topic was chosen and then everyone posts at once! An explosion of dialogue on esoteric topics that normally only happens at occult conferences, pub meets or occult bookshop talks (such as Treadwells).
Search Query Inspired Posts (SQIPS)
One curious thing that I’ve discovered since starting this blog in October last year is that some interesting Google search queries have pointed people to this blog. For example: “agile self regenerating golems”.
Since there’s no way for me to work out who these queries have originated from, I’ve decided to use them as a source of inspiration for creating new blog entries. It’s a kind of unintended feedback channel that may throw up some interesting discussions.
So starting next week I will create a post once a month based on a search query that has landed some poor sod at this blog.
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
In my last post I indicated that I would be starting a new project focusing on the mastery of prayer and the practice of meditation. I was wrong.
The thing is this activity does not fit properly the description of a project. It fits better under the heading of Operations or “Business as Usual”.
Business As Usual
Whilst searching for a good answer to what is the difference between a Project and Business As Usual – this search result came up with a concise answer:
- PROJECT – has a beginning and end; creates a unique product or service
- OPERATION – is on-going and repetitive
Another way to look at the two is with the following examples:
- A project would be to explore passes through the mountains to set-up new trade routes. Business as usual is to make use of those trade routes and keep them safe.
- A project is set-up to trial use of new triage processes in Accident in Emergency. Business as usual is the adoption of those triage processes in every day work.
- A project is set-up to create a new blog. Business as usual is keeping the blog updated with new updates and responding to comments.
Prayer, Meditation and Translation skills
Having thought about Mastery some more since my recent post, I can see that there are projects within the path towards mastery. For example, projects aimed at learning specific skills and knowledge such as new katas in martial arts or reading, absorbing and putting in to practice meditation techniques.
However, I do not believe that the path towards mastery is project based. Rather projects can help build towards the next level but its repetitive nature of business as usual allows for the step, plateau, step growths towards mastery.
Power of Prayer
As a quick aside, I want to share with you a clip about the power of prayer that comes from a film called Ushpizin. It’s a film about “An Orthodox Jewish couple's faith is tested after praying to the Lord for a child on the Succoth holiday.” Warning: the clip is 5:13 minutes long and loud in parts.
Monday, 14 March 2011
Synchronicity is a concept that is bandied around some parts of the magical community. It’s not really that prominent in Project Management community, but perhaps it has some useful applications in risk analysis by exploring what additional meaning there is when a risk has or could actually occur.
Recently I took up the book recommendation from the The Scribbler in this post about Mastery. Not being a very practical person, I fit mostly in to the dabbler category of trying something out for awhile and then moving on. I also fit in to the hacker category of trying something out for a bit and being happy after a bit of advancement but not willing to commit to achieving mastery. The obsessive category that the author mentions as the third of his categories in the opening chapter does not really fit me.
Having been inspired by reading this book, I started thinking about the current activities that I have in my life and choosing which ones to invest in extra to progress along the path of mastery and which not to invest in. My list consisted of:
- Playing an instrument
- Hebrew to English translation work
- Academic studies of Kabbalah
- Meditation, study of
- Meditation, practice of
Not long after this a friend returned my copy of “The Thirteen Petalled Rose” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz that I’d lent her probably over a year ago. Not only did she return my copy but also gave me the new edition as a gift so that I could continue to lend out this excellent book.
In the new edition of “The Thirteen Petaled Rose” are two chapters, the first of which is on prayer. Since meditation was high up on my list of things to achieve mastery of, it seemed like more than a coincidence that the “The Thirteen Petaled Rose” should have a chapter on prayer since the two topics from a Jewish mystical perspective are closely linked.
In fact the Hebrew word for prayer is “Avoda” (Ah-voh-dah), which means work or service. It’s a whole topic of its own that I will comment on in future posts, but it’s also something that I want to get better at. Hence prayer and meditation are going to be my focus area for achieving mastery.
As a Project Manager I immediately started trying to devise a project plan for how to achieve this. But then looking back at the “Mastery” book I realize that this is perhaps not the right approach. Yes it is good to have some planning in the sense of working out what the progression should look like. But tracking it against milestones, with risks recorded and cost estimates is perhaps a bit over the top.
Having decided that Prayer and Meditation (practice of) are my top two does not mean that the others get dropped. Just that the path towards the other items in the list will start slower so that eventually the paths will layer one on top of the successes of the other. That’s the plan at least …
Thursday, 10 March 2011
Treadwells lecture notes from: Power of the Word: Neoplatonism's Gift to Western Magic.
03 March 2011 (Thursday) 7:15pm. Price £7.00
The Neoplatonic theory of the power of words is key to Western Esotericism's magic. Plotinus and others taught that thoughts were not abstract, 'unreal' things, but rather the essence of reality. And they endorsed ceremonial practice – including magical words which emit 'ineffable power.' What is the theoretical basis for this theory of power? What does it imply for astrology, divination? And what of that greater power – silence? No expertise in the late-antique Platonic thought needed – just bring an interest in magical speech, spoken spells, or ceremonial magic – or philosophy! Earl Fontainelle lives in Dartmoor where he is writing his University of Exeter Ph.D. thesis on Plotinus.
Tuesday, 8 March 2011
Last weekend the Torah portion that was read was Pekudei, it was also Shabbat Shekalim. It’s rare for these two to fall together and the basic message I’d like to highlight from this is: manage your Costs.
Pekudei is about Moses accounting for all the contributions to the building of the Mishkan (the temporary sanctuary in which the Divine manifest). Shekalim is about the collection of the half-shekel for the upkeep of the Temple.
So you might ask, what’s the big deal with doing all this accounting and making such a fuss about collecting funds? In fact, why are the previous two Torah portions about explaining how the Mishkan should be built then followed by a two portions detailing how they were built? Could it not just be written: “And then they built it as per instructions”?
Plans don’t run themselves
From a project management point of view, planning does not seamlessly translate in to successful execution of a project. In fact in addition to there being an Execution phase of a project, during this phase the processes of Monitor and Control are being acted upon.
In plain English, plans need to be acted upon and checked regularly to make sure that they are on track. If minor deviations from the plan occur they can often be corrected. Major deviations often require more focus and attention to correct probably involving stakeholder involvement to save or cancel the project.
Another way of looking at this is to say that plotting a course for a sailing ship, tracing a series of paths for a nature ramble and planning a round the world holiday are not the same things as actually making those journeys. The Execution phase of the project is the journey and part of doing the journey part is keeping on top of your spending.
Dimensions and how to go from the abstract to the practical
From a Golem Builder point of view (and as explained by my Rabbi), Sefer Yetzirah speaks of Creation in terms of the following dimensions: World (Space), Year (Time) and Soul (Morality).
The dimension of world (space) refers to the Mishkan or Temple. The dimension of year (time) refers to the Shabbat and the dimension of soul (morality) refers to the community praying together.
So these dimensions are not just abstract ideas to be contemplated, they are mapped to physical reality that need active work to make them happen.
- Pekudei describes how the dimension of space was worked on to create a place for the Divine to manifest.
- Shabbat has lots of laws about what should not be done to create boundaries in time during which no creative work is done (these laws are derived from the 39 creative activities performed for building the Mishkan).
- People need to gather in a quorum for certain communal prayers to be allowed to be said.
So in my desperate attempt to tie this together… we’ve seen how planning and doing are two separate phases of a project. Similarly the three dimensions of space, time are translated from the abstract to mundane through execution (i.e. making it happen).
This hopefully answers the questions posed at the start of this post about why it was important to count all the contributions to the building of the Mishkan and to detail the actual building of the Mishkan. The message is that making the journey, executing the plan require as much care and attention as the planning.
|Half Shekel coin|
Now let’s close off with a final mention about the money. I’ve talked about staying on top of your finances without actually giving you any constructive ways of making this happen. Fortunately there are a number of web sites that give practical advice and have calculator programs built in to help analyze your spending patterns.
Here are a few links:
Thursday, 3 March 2011
In a recent discussion about different Project techniques, the author of this new book: “Making Sense of Agile Project Management: Balancing Control and Agility" stated the following:
“…We as project managers need to expand the range of tools in our "tool kit" to include both agile and non-agile methodologies. In the book, I use an analogy that was originally developed by Bob Wysocki about the difference between project managers acting as "cooks and chefs". A project manager that can "cook" knows how to prepare some standard dishes from a limited number of recipes. A project manager who is a "chef" knows how to prepare a much larger variety of different types of meals (perhaps even different types of cuisine) and even knows how to develop highly customized and innovative recipes that go well beyond standard recipes…”The idea about the difference between a cook being someone who knows how to prepare a list of recipes and a chef being someone who can innovate based of existing recipes made me think about some recent postings by Aaron Leitch on his blog here and here.
It also made me think some more about the debate around syncretism on which I posted a little while ago. As an aside I’m also curious to find out where Rufus Opus would put Aaron Leitch on his scale of syncretism.
Let’s for the moment consider syncretism to be like chefs innovating based on recipes from different cuisines and focus instead on the difference between a chef and a cook within a single school or tradition of magic or mysticism.
Within the evolution of Jewish mysticism there have been numerous occasions when chefs combined different approaches and philosophies. Such as for example Spanish and German kabbalists mixing as mentioned in Professor Moshe Idel’s lecture. (Podcasts available here).
Another example is in the influence that Rabbi Abraham Abulafia had on Safedian Kabbalists such as Rabbi Chaim Vital and Rabbi Moses Cordovero (the Ramak). Each avenue of development in Jewish mysticism has one or more chefs leading the way. In future postings I’ll be exploring the lives of these chefs and the impacts that their lives and writings had.
So now back to the question of syncretism. Looking at the history of any given school, tradition, other spiritual development path or system of magic – how much of the syncretism introduced was done by chefs and how much by cooks?
The answer to this will likely be subjective based on how you rank someone as a cook or chef. Do you rate someone more for their knowledge or their practical achievements? But isn’t that in part what grades, ranks, entry requirements, etc are about to label someone as a cook or chef? Anyway, hopefully this discussion on cooks and chefs has given you some food for thought (my apologies for the awful pun).
Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Just over a month ago I asked the question: Do you need be an expert to use Kabbalah?
Rather than answer the question now, I’d like to take you on a tour of the history of Jewish mysticism. Showing you the different schools of thought and practice through the past 2000 years. It will not be a comprehensive guide, but will hopefully provide sufficient information to show the evolution of ideas and concepts in Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism in general.
To get started let’s look at Ma'asei Bereishit: “The Workings of Creation.”
In the excellent “The Encyclopedia Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism” by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis, the entry on Ma'asei Bereishit contains the following extracts:
“...Starting in antiquity, Jewish disciples of the esoteric have engaged in metaphysical speculation about the powers and events surrounding the creation of the universe. This branch of Jewish occult knowledge is called Ma'asei-Bereishit...”So in previous postings when I refer to Ma'asei Bereishit or add this label to the posting, I’m really referencing Sefer Yetzirah rather than any of the very few other texts that deal with Ma'asei Bereishit.
“...The mishnah explicitly cautions against pursuing questions of what preceded Creation (Chagigah 2:1), though the restrictions they impose on learning Ma'asei Bereishit are slightly less stringent than those surrounding inquiring into the other branch of Jewish esotericism, the Ma'asei Merkavah...”
“...The tract Sefer Yetzirah is clearly the major work of Ma'asei Bereishit and its influence is so significant that over eighty commentaries on it – philosophical, mystical, and magical – presently exist...”
Rather than republish a lot of information about Ma'asei Bereishit and Sefer Yetzirah, here are a few links for those who want to do additional reading:
- Jewish Encyclopedia on Ma’asei Bereishit and Ma’asei Merkavah
- Wikipedia on Ma’asei Bereishit and Ma’asei Merkavah
- Robert Zucker’s EMOL web site with a lot of information on Sefer Yetzirah