Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Common Misconceptions Rant

Recently I went to a talk on a topic of esoteric interest of mine. The talk was very interesting and the speaker really knowledgeable about her subject from a practical point of view. However, her willingness to make throw away comments on Judaism revealed how little she knew about the religion was really quite shocking.
[The remainder of this rant is not addressed to any individuals, it's my way of venting at the world at large]

So if you think that you know a thing or two about Judaism, here are seven easy questions:

  1. How many Temples were there?
  2. How long do you wait between eating meat and milk?
  3. How many plagues did the Egyptians suffer at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds?
  4. Why do Jews eat dairy products during the festival that celebrates the giving of the Torah?
  5. Who knows one?
  6. Is the Torah in chronological order?
  7. Where are the laws of ritual slaughter explained? In other words, where is the procedure described?
Did you manage to answer more than 2 without resorting to using a search engine?

Would it surprise you to know that many of these questions have multiple correct answers? For example, some people wait 1 hour between eating meat and milk. Some wait 3 hours and others wait 6 hours. There are also some who wait 5 hours and 1 minute. All these time periods are OK within Jewish law depending on where you are from.

Jews believe in a written and oral law. The Torah (5 books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) make up the written law. The Talmud is the oral law. The Written law is impossible to live without the Oral law. Jewish law goes according to the majority of law makers and the minority opinion has been preserved. Miracles do not impact the decision making process for formulating laws.

Anyway, here are some common misconceptions that I've come across over recent years. If you believe any of these to be true, I would sincerely recommend that you do a bit more research in to Judaism as you really don't know as much as you might think.
  1. Judaism is not a dualistic faith. 
  2. Judaism and Christianity do not have much common. The term “Judeo-Christian” is an oxymoron, it's a way of lumping two things together that are far apart in terms of beliefs and practices.
  3. Jews do not believe that Jesus was a Prophet nor do they believe that he is the son of God. Jews do not believe that Muhammed was a prophet. Jews do believe that there have been non-Jewish prophets and Jews also believe that men and women have been prophets.
  4. Jews do not believe in hell. There is a belief in Gehinnom which is a place where the soul goes to be purified after death. There is no such concept as eternal damnation or original sin.
  5. Jews do not believe in a devil or an opposing force of evil that is independent of God. There is the idea of an accusing angel, but it works for God.
  6. Jews do not worship Yaweh. Perhaps you are referring to the Tetragrammaton or YHWH when this comes up in conversation. It is one of a number of names for the Divine. Each name is a way of relating to how the Divine manifests in reality and we can have a perception of the Divine.
  7. Jew do not worship an angry desert god or a demon masquerading as Divinity. This is classic demonization of another's religious beliefs. You're understanding of God in the Torah is based on a literal reading of parts of the texts and ignores the Oral traditions that go with the Written law.
  8. Jews believe that we should worship the Divine directly without any intermediaries. That means that we do not worship other gods, angels, planets or other intermediaries.
If you want to find out more, look up Maimonides 13 principles of faith, read books by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz or speak to an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.

Feel free to continue clinging to these misconceptions and others if that makes you happy. Just please do me a favour and don't tell me that you have a deep grasp of Judaism. [Expletive removed]

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Candles, Meditation and Contact

My PC finally gave up the ghost. It died in the line of duty and I’m very proud of the many years of service it gave despite how often I treated it with a lack of respect.

Anyway, with that non-news item out of the way... on to the main topic of the post.

Sefer Yetzirah chapter 1 verse 7:
Ten Sefirot of Nothingness
Their end is imbedded in their beginning
and their beginning in their end
like a flame in a burning coal
For the Master is singular
He has no second
And before One, what do you count?
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his commentary and translation (an extract of which is quoted above and below) describes a meditation on pp.64 with a relatively explicit set of instructions:
...This can be used as a meditation. Th wick itself represents the physical world, while th blue flame nearest to the wic is the counterpart of Malkhut. Surrounding this is bright yellow flame, corresponding to the next six Sefirot: Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod and Yesod. Above this is the barely visible exterior flame, the hottest part of all, paralleling Binah. Then comes the light radiating from the candle, which is Chakhmah. Finally, there is the concept of flame itself, and this corresponds to Keter.
All of these parts are unified only through the wick. By contemplating a flame in this manner, one can bind himself to the Ten Sefirot...”

I’ve had a few goes at this. Like most things, it’s likely to need lots and lots of practice. It did get me thinking though if this could be combined with the techniques that Josephine McCarthy described in her book “Magical Knowledge: Book I Foundations”.

What would happen if a person meditates on binding themselves to the Ten Sefirot and then using that same flame to reach through for inner contacts?

Then again I may just stick to the method of contacting a maggid by repeating a mishna over and over again. That might be a different way to contact the author of SY1:7 to understand it better.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Memory Ritual Follow-up

There's a story told about a village that has a problem that the people are unable to solve. I don't remember the exact story so apologies in advance for mangling the story. Anyway, the people of the village contact a local wise man and tell him their story. The wise man goes away to think about it. During his wandering around he sits on a rock by the river, starts eating a fruit and just then comes up with a brilliant solution to the villagers problem.

When he gets back to the village the wise man tells them what the solution to their sticky problem is . The villagers, curious about how the wise man solved the problem, ask him where and how he came up with the solution. The wise man tells them exactly what happened.

“Where by the river did you sit?” one villager asks.

“What size rock did you sit on and how did you sit on it?” another asks.

“What fruit were you eating?” a third villager chimes in.

The wise man looks perplexed. “Why do you want to know?”

“Because if we know where to sit by the river, on what rock and which fruit to eat,” the villagers explain slowly. “We will be able to solve future problems without your help.”

Right... so I tried out a technique that I described in a previous post. That being a technique from Merkavah literature to improve memorization.

For three days in a row, I said Psalm 63 seven times whilst holding a plastic cup with at least a 1.1 fl. oz. (33.3cc) kosher wine. After completing the 7 times recitation of the Psalm, I said a blessing over the wine, drank it and said the blessing required after drinking sufficient wine.

Wine, Psalm, count of seven. River, rock, fruit. It's not just the technique that matters but also the intent as Michael posted about recently.

It's been just over a week since I did the ritual to improve memorization. Since that time I've started a new job and have had to go from a job that almost drove me insane from boredom – to one where I have had less than an hour to myself all (working) week.

At the end of my first week my boss commented: “I'm amazed by how much you've been able to take in.” On a personal note, I'm simply amazed that I can remember so many people's names, a skill that I was really, really bad at 2 weeks ago.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A time of empathy and regularity

It's hard being a beginner again. That is exactly how it feels this week as I begin a new job. At the same time I've pulled the break on my magical and meditative practice to get back in to the beginner mentality.

For a moment there I was really believing that I could pray for rain until the Olympics and be successful. Now I realise that even if my prayers and rain dance are having some kind of effect on the British weather – that this is not necessarily a positive thing.

Today is Lag BaOmer, the 33 day between the festival of Pesach (Passover, celebrating the Exodus from Egypt) to the festival of Shavuot (Weeks, celebrating the receiving of the Ten Commandments).

It's a 49 day period and each of the 7 weeks represents the lower sefirot of Chesed (kindness), Gevurah (restraint), Tiferet (harmony), Netzach (eternity), Hod (regularity), Yesod (foundation) and Malchut (rulership). Each day of the week is also represented by a Sefirah. Hence the 33rd day is Hod in Hod. In other words, a day of empathy and regularity.

Which is just what I need to get back in regular practice and become aware of the effects of having rain at the wrong time of year that goes on and on and on... So instead I'll pray for the weather to return that is appropriate for this season. Who knows, there may even be some sunshine at the weekend!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Reset and Change

Today is the first day of May and almost the end of a very long and tiring journey that I’ve been on. Not physically travelling from one place to another, instead leaving one phase of my life behind and starting another. I’m changing jobs and having been in the old company for so long, it feels like waking from a dream within a dream within a dream…

Anyway, in the run up to the start of May and in this time between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Weeks), I decided that it was time to clear out some of the stray and undesired thought patterns in my mind.

Thought Experiment

Here is a little exercise for you to try. Below will be three questions to answer. Think of the answer as quickly as you can and remember that there is no “correct” answer.

1. Burning 
Your home is on fire. You have 30 seconds to get anything and anyone out of the house before you are overcome by the smoke and fire. What do you do?

2. Burning 
Your home is no longer on fire, some but not your entire house was spared from the flames. You and your family are safe outside along with a few precious possessions. There is an angry mob on its way; they have been whipped up in to a frenzy by a leader from a different religion. You have 30 minutes to do whatever it you want before you have to flee the country, what do you do?

3. Burning 
Your home has been partially burned down, there’s an angry mob and escaping the country is no longer an option. You are given the choice to convert or die. If you convert you will be expected to participate in communal religious life on a regular basis and will be checked up on without warning. What do you do?

OK, so they’re not very fair questions and leave a lot of blanks to fill in. The aim is for you to think about your ties and connections and what you are willing to give up. What possessions do you care about and which are less important? What ties do you have to your friends and family? And finally which beliefs matter to you most and under what circumstances would you be willing to give your life for something or someone that you believe in?

Wrecking Ball

I ask myself these questions on a fairly regular basis because, as a Project Manager being reflective becomes second nature. Also, it helps re-affirm what I believe in and what really matters.

With these thoughts in mind I decided that it was time to take a metaphysical wrecking ball to my worldview and view of self to see how well they could stand up to a few knocks. I chose to read a book by an author that I would not normally be drawn to in order to see how much they would challenge my knowledge and experience of magic. I wanted to read outside my comfort zone and with as open a mind as possible.

Frater Acher inspired me to read Josephine McCarthy’s book: “Magical Knowledge Book I Foundations/ The Lone Practitioner”. Currently I’m about half-way through the book and it’s blown me away. Not only has it made me realize how little I know or have achieved so far, I find myself writing notes and questions in the margins on almost every page.

Writing in the margins… with a pen! For someone like me who was raised with a respect for books bordering on reverence, I can’t honestly remember the last time I wrote in the margins and certainly not with a pen.

Experiential Learning

Having achieved the goal of knocking myself down a couple of pegs, I’ve decided to change my approach to blogging. To date most of the posts have been about the theory of Jewish magic & mysticism with a few posts about the practice and experience. In the future I plan to shift that balance the other way and focus much more on practice and less on theory.

There are plenty of decent books on Kabbalah, Jewish Magic & Mysticism that will teach you the theory. There’s a lot less that will teach you the practice.

In Frater Acher’s recent blog (part 1 and part 2)  he talks about the What, How and Why of magic.

What – The sum of actual magical practices recorded in any given tradition
How – The Cosmology, knowledge and symbols that empower magic in any given tradition
Why – The reason and purpose of why magic is practiced in any given tradition

His blog posts are fascinating and illuminating reading that I’m still pondering and digesting.

My reading to date has highlighted to me that in Jewish magic and mysticism there is a lot written on the How, some written on the Why and only a small amount written about the What. If I am mistaken about this, please let me know in the comment section below.

Reset and Change

So I’m hoping that this is a change that will stick and not just a statement of intent. In the very near future I will start a new job and have less time to blog in any case, which will hopefully mean fewer but better posts in the future.

I’m starting again, just from a slightly different starting point.