Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Law of Unintended Stakeholders

Recently I was chatting with a family friend and quite by accident we discovered our common interest in Ma’aseh Bereishit (“the workings of Creation”), an early school of Jewish Mysticism focusing on how the Universe was created. I also recently came across two related articles on this topic by Head for Red called “Sorcery’s a Dangerous Game” and by Strategic Sorcery: “On Secret Identities” that caught my attention.

From a Project Management point of view what this looks like is what I call the “Law of Unintended Stakeholders”. Which basically means that someone or group of people takes an interest after find out about something, in this case that the person is a sorcerer, theurgist, voodoo practitioner, pagan, mystic etc. (or all of the above).

Definition of a Stakeholder

First we need to answer the question of what the definition of a stakeholder is? Then we’ll take a brief look at how to manage stakeholders and finally some advice on how to handle stakeholders who have an interest in the occult.

According to the PMBOK Guide (Project Management Institute Body of Knowledge, 3rd Edition, pp.376) the definition of a stakeholder is:

“Person or organization (e.g. customer, sponsor, performing organization, or the public) that is actively involved in the project, or whose interest may be positively or negatively affected by the execution or completion of the project. A stakeholder may also exert influence over the project and its deliverables.”

In plain English a stakeholder is someone who has an interest and may have influence over projects that you’re running. If for example you’re a vampire, then a stakeholder is quite literally someone with a hostile interest in your continued existence. Perhaps a better example is the 2012 Olympics in London, everyone living in the city is a potential stakeholder as they may be affected by the Olympic games. However, as a Project Manager you’re aware that there are different scales of interest and influence by your stakeholders and it’s important to manage those carefully.

On Managing Stakeholders

Fortunately this is where the “Lazy Project Manager: How to be twice as productive and still leave the office on time” by Peter Taylor comes to the rescue. There’s a LOT of literature written on managing stakeholders, but Peter’s book has some very helpful diagrams.

“Lazy Project Manager: How to be twice as productive and still leave the office on time” by Peter Taylor pp. 38
This diagram is actually about the Sponsor (i.e. the person providing funding) of the project. However, I believe that it can be stretched to include all stakeholders.

What the diagram shows is that those people who score highly on influence and interest should get the most effort to keep informed and satisfied. The interested should be kept informed and the influential should be kept satisfied- which leaves the least effort for the ones at the other end of the interest and influences scales.

Law of Unintended Stakeholders

OK, so let’s bring this back to the original posts quoted by Head for Red and Strategic Sorcery.

Sorcery’s a Dangerous Game” and
On Secret Identities

What happens when someone in your circle of family, friends, colleagues, or other contact finds out that you’re interested in magic, mysticism, paganism, etc? If they express any interest in this, then they have unintentionally become a stakeholder due to their interest. The next question is: how much influence do they have on your life?

Once the assessment of how much interest and influence they have has been done; then the next step is to use this to determine your communication strategy and risk management of this issue. As the diagram above shows, people with little interest or influence do not require much, if any, management. People with only an interest and little influence can be managed by either keeping them informed or not. If you don’t keep them informed, their interest may fade over time.

It’s the people who have high influence (whether very interested or not) that are the main concern. So here are some approaches to handling this issue based on PMBOK (3rd edition) section 11.5.2 “Risk Response Planning: Tools and Techniques”, pages 261-263

.1 Strategies for Negative Risk or Threats
“Three strategies typically deal with threats or risks that may have negative impacts on project objectives if they occur. These strategies are to avoid, transfer, or mitigate.”
.2 Strategies for Positive Risks or Opportunities
“Three responses are suggested to deal with risks with potentially positive impacts on project objectives. These strategies are to exploit, share or enhance.”
.3 Strategies for Both Threats and Opportunities
These strategies are (hopefully) self explanatory. To give a little more help I’ve included some examples of how to use each one and leave the rest up to your initiative and creativity to come up with solutions of your own.

  • Avoid – This can be taken quite literally to have less contact with that person or to avoid this topic. If you can skillfully navigate away from this topic, then the stakeholder may get the hint and realize that it’s not something you want to include in your conversations. You may need to tell this to them directly.
  • Transfer – Point to another source for more information. This can be another person, online information or books, etc. It can even mean getting another person or group to engage with the stakeholder to answer their questions and get them to take the brunt of the interest whether positive or negative.
  • Mitigate – This means reducing the impact and can be done by for example down-playing the importance these topics have such as “Oh, I’ve only read a couple of books on Kabbalah. I’m by no means an expert and only do some breathing exercises.”
  • Exploit – On a more positive note, this may be an opportunity to learn from someone else. They may have knowledge and experience whose benefits you could learn from.
  • Share – If the person has an interest in other areas you could each agree to share such knowledge each with the other. One example of this is Doing Magick’s article on “The Rabbi Speaketh"
  • Enhance – This means increasing the likelihood of something positive coming out of this situation. Proactively seeking to increase the chances of success, such as for example starting a blog to better interact with other initiates around the world.
  • Accept – passive acceptance means doing nothing about it. Active acceptance means moving on (if possible) to somewhere that their influence is unlikely to have an adverse affect on you.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Project Update: Two boats and a helicopter

There's a joke about a man who is sitting on the roof of his house as the valley he lives in has flooded. A boat passes by and offers to rescue him, but the man replies: "God will save me".

A little while later the water has risen higher and another boat passes by. The crew of this boat urge him to climb on board, but again the man replies: "God will save me".

Finally a helicopter passes over the man's house as he is perched on top of his chimney. They throw down a rope to pull him on board, but once again the man replies: "God will rescue me".

The man drowns and when his souls ascends to Heaven he confronts God about letting him drown. God replies: "Two boats and a helicopter was not enough for you?"

At work recently I'd made the decision to ask not to be included in the new organization structure. Since there was no voluntary redundancy, this was the closest thing we could do to get a payout and move on to another job. Shortly after making that decision, I had chats with 2 managers to explain how I was Project Managing my career and looking at the next 5 years of my career growth.

An hour later I got a call from another manager offering me a very good project in the new organization, but I turned him down and explained my decision was based on the 5 year plan, etc. Anyway, a few days later another manager approached me and offered me an even better project. That got me thinking... was this the second boat? Should I wait for the helicopter or just get the hell out off the submerged house to relative safety? Hence I said yes to the second manager and I'm now waiting to find out if I have a job in the Yew Year.

In other project related news, my project to meditate for 40 days to acquire Wisdom has finished and so far there's no immediate transformation in my consciousness or of level of insight in to all things occult and Kabbalah. Early on in the 40 days I had dreams of studying at a Rabbinical college, but I could not understand what was being taught. Later in the 40 days these dreams stopped.

My reading is continuing for the Project to understand Merkavah (Heavenly Chariot) and Hechalot (Heavenly Palaces) literature in 2000 pages. In terms of page count I'm doing quite well, in terms of comprehension of the subject matter it's not going as well. However, like the 40 days for Wisdom project - I'm hoping that at a certain point I'll reach a critical mass and have a break through in my understanding.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winter Solstice Feedback Thread

Happy Winter Solstice 2010!

This blog was originally set-up to experiment with the nicer formatting that BlogSpot offers over Livejournal. Then it grew to include the research whether Project Management techniques could be of value to magicicians, mystics and occultists in general,

The seed of an idea to combine Project Management and Magic has grown in to a series of articles on this topic including choosing the right project management approach to things such as managing complexity in magical projects.

So now my questions to you are:
  • What would you like to see more of?
  • What would you like to see less of? 
  • Would you like to see more book reviews, occult lecture write-ups, practical guidance on Kabbalistic meditation techniques, translations of works by Abraham Abulafia or Elazar of Worms?
  • Which topic would you like to see more detail in?
  • 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?

Any and all comments, feedback, suggestions, rants and general musings are much appreciated!

Break It Down: Building a Plan with Breakdown Structures

Recently at work I’ve been assigned to work with a new team and as well as using my normal checklist to ensure a smooth handover from one project manager to the other – there’s the issue with understanding a new technology area to deal with. Often when facing a new domain of knowledge it can be quite daunting to get to grips with it. My two favoured techniques are “nibble at the edges” and work breakdown structures (WBS).

Unstructured Approach:

The first technique is not really a formal technique as such. It boils down to picking up information as I go along. As problems and risks are raised and addresses, they shine more light on the internal working of the technology in this domain. It’s a path of organic-like growth in knowledge that is rather unstructured and can lead to misunderstanding of key concepts.

In occult terms this is a bit like coming across a particular topic in passing in various books, articles and conversations. It’s not the main focus of the book and often leaves me with more questions than answers. For example,, about 4 years ago a friend lent me a book on Wicca which was quite interesting and at the back was a very brief chapter on the Sefirot ( ) and the Tree of Life. When I asked why this was included my friend stated: “Oh, for some reason that makes an appearance in a number of books.”

Structured Approach:

The second approach is called Work Breakdown Structures. A good book on this topic is: “Effective Work Breakdown Structures” by Gregory T. Haugan. The author defines (on pp.2) a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) as:
“The WBS is an outline of the work; not the work itself. The work is the sum of many activities that make upa project. A WBS may start either as an informal list of activities or in a very structured way, depending on the project and constraints, and it can end wherever the planner wants it to. The goal is to have a useful framework to help define and organize the work and then to get started doing it.”

Using that definition, the author then goes on to outline a 4-step process for creating a WBS:
“Developing the WBS is a four-step process:
  1. Specifying the project objectives and focusing on the products, services, or results to be provided to the customer.
  2. Identifying specifically the products, services or results (deliverables or end items) to be provided to the customer.
  3. Identifying other work areas in the project to make sure that 100 percent of the work is covered and to identify areas cut across deliverables, represent intermediate outputs, or complete deliverables.
  4. Subdividing each of the items in step 2 and 3 into successive, logical subcategories until complexity and dollar value of the elements become manageable units for planning and control purposes (work packages)."

OK, that’s a lot of words and unless you’re really in to Project Management you might be tempted to stop reading here – or have done so already. Hence here are some diagrams of WBS used for planning a dinner party and writing a book.

Effective Work Breakdown Structures” by Gregory T. Haugan. Figure 5-5 Bottum-up WBS for a Dinner Party

Effective Work Breakdown Structures” by Gregory T. Haugan. Figure 5-4 Sample Book Writing Report

Kabbalah in terms of WBS
Having spent a fair amount of my free time reading academic books on Kabbalah, I appreciate that it can appear to be a bit of a monolithic domain of knowledge with a learning curve like taking off in a harrier jump-jet. But once you start digging a little deeper a number of things become clear:

  1. Kabbalah is not a monolithic body of knowledge
  2. Study of Kabbalah does indeed take a lot of time for a serious student

The good news though is that using a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) it is possible to break down study of Kabbalah in to manageable chunks. A WBS for this can either be broken down by authors or along a timeline of evolution of thought in Kabbalah. For example, a simple WBS of authors could be:
  1. Martin Buber
  2. Gershom Scholem
  3. Moshe Idel

An example of WBS based on timeline could be:

  1. Merkavah and Heichalot mystics (2nd-5th century mysticism based on Vision of Divine Chariot from Ezekiel)
  2. German Pietists also known as Hasidei Ashkenaz
  3. Kabbalists of Spain and Provence
  4. Kabbalists of Safed incluing Isaac Luria and Moshe Cordovero
  5. Hassidic movement founded by the Baal Shem Tov

Another example of WBS based around chronology and author could be:

  1. Eliphas Levi (Paris 1850)
  2. Mathers (Golden Dawn 1888)
  3. Papus (Golden Dawn)
  4. Israel Regardie
  5. Dion Fortune
  6. Gareth Knight
  7. Lon Milo Duquette and chaos magic
Now it's your turn. How will use WBS to breakdown a practical or research project in to manageable bite size chunks that you can put on a timeline to create a realistic schedule?

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Strategic Occult Book Purchasing Guide

Earlier this week whilst having tea with a colleague I mentioned that I was looking for another topic to post for on my blog and he responded: "How about project managing buying books?"

"What a genius idea!" came my immediate response followed by some very hurried scribbling on a pad that left my fingers covered in ink and very little on the page.

Anyway, on to the topic of how Project Management and buying occult books overlap…

The Project Management bit

In Project Management one of the fundamental ideas is that the vast majority of project has a triple constraint around it.

  1. Time
  2. Cost
  3. Scope

A poor Project Manager fails to deliver the right scope for the correct cost in the right time. A good Project Manager delivers in two out of three of these and a great Project Manager understands that if one constraint moves then there is often room to negotiate on the other two.

For example, if your boss wants a project done in half the time – will he/she be willing to accept reducing the scope of the project by half? Or how about doubling cost by bringing in contractors do help do more of the work that can be done in parallel?

Using the Iron Triangle to work out What, When and How Much?

Anyway, now that you’ve had a very brief introduction to the triple constraint (or the Iron Triangle) as I’ve heard some Project Managers refer to it as, let’s use that triangle as a tool to tackle the challenge and excitement of buying occult books.

Defining the problem domain also known as “What do you want to achieve?”

Write down the answer to these Scope questions to help narrow down your buying needs:
  1. What topics of books are you looking to buy?
  2. Is it on a range of topics of on a specific topic?
  3. Are you interested in an area that you’re already knowledgeable about or a new topic?
  4. Is it for practical advice or theoretical knowledge?
Here are some Time related questions:
  1. Are you an impulse buyer?
  2. When do you want to be holding these books?
  3. How fast do you get through a book?
  4. Are you able to set aside dedicated reading time?

And now for the final part – Cost:
  1. What is your budget for buying these books?
  2. How much effort are you willing to put in to finding the right book?
  3. How much effort will you put in to finding a bargain?

Now before I get on to the topic of internet links for finding and buying books, here are my thoughts about occult bookshops.

Occult Bookshops

My experience of occult bookshops in London (UK) is that they’re GREAT! There’s Atlantis, Mysteries, Treadwells, Watkins and a number of other shops that sell occult books. Here are some reasons why it’s worth spending time in an occult bookshop:
  1. People who work in occult bookshops (in my experience) have a lot of knowledge and contacts.
  2. Browsing let’s you explore the flow and exchange of ideas from one occult category to another
  3. Notice boards in occult bookshops are useful for contacts and courses
  4. Some bookshops hosts talks which are a superb way to meet like-minded people

One time I was in Atlantis bookshop and a man who’d been browsing books turned to the lovely lady serving behind the desk and asked why there were not more bookshops like Atlantis in the United States. The lady behind the desk smiled and answered that running an occult bookshop requires having a vast range of knowledge of different topics and that finding staff to meet such needs is very challenging.

(Alan Moore's "Unearting" for sale for £50 at Treadwells)
Treadwells, a bookshop that I rate highly for its friendly staff and awesome lectures & courses, has a course set-up to train both its staff and others who are interested in gaining such a breadth of knowledge of occult topics.

Summary of tips and techniques:
  • Go with a plan of what you want to buy and how much you can afford
  • If you’re looking for a bargain, consider looking up comparison websites such as Froogle
  • If you use Amazon, add a book to your basket instead of your wish list but SAVE IT FOR LATER. That way when you next go to your basket, it will inform you if the price has gone up or down.
  • Always look up the author of a book before buying it, the other books that they’ve written will give you more information about their expertise on the book’s chosen topic
  • Get advice in an occult bookshop or consult with someone whose opinions you value
  • Take online reviews on Amazon, etc with a pinch of salt. Bear in mind the number of reviews and the spread of reviews (e.g. ten people gave 5 stars, three with 2 stars and nothing in between)
  • If you’re in a shop and there’s no one around who can advise about whether a particular author is recommended or not – if you have your phone with you and have internet access, then look them up online and look for book reviews online.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Project update: Wisdom, Chariots and Living like a Mystic

Just over a month ago I started a project to do a meditation to gain wisdom. Not long after that I started another project to read through my academic book collection on Merkavah and Hechalot (Chariot and Heavenly Halls) literature.

I was really quite excited. Finally starting a structured meditation with a fixed duration that I’d hoped would give me a quantum leap forward in my understanding and practice of Kabbalah.

Also whilst I’d come across references to Merkavah and Hechalot literature in numerous places, I was hoping that reading the academic literature would give a grounding in a Merkavist’s worldview. Who knows, perhaps I’d even end up living in a cave in the desert eating only bread and drinking water, praying and meditating all day? Well according to legend this is what Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son did for 13 years to escape from the Romans

Well the good news is that the completion date for 40 days for Wisdom is coming up on Tuesday 23rd December 2010 and I’ve not missed a day yet. Also on the research front, I’ve read 314 pages out of an expected 200 to date to reach the overall target of 2169 pages. So that means progress is at 14%, with the expected progress to date being 9%.

The other news is that since Saturday night I have only eaten bread and drunken water and spent my wakeful time in prayer or meditation. However this is not because I have been transformed from project-manager-and-armchair-occultist to Merkavah mystic. Rather this is because I spent a good portion of Saturday night being ill and almost all of Sunday in bed trying to recover.

So like any true Project Manager who has time and inclination to focus on the CHECK part of plan-do-check-act. Here’s the likely list of reasons for how my diet has become like that of a mystic without the rest of my life following suit:

  1. Winter bug
  2. Food poisoning
  3. Delay in Hochmah meditation
  4. End of Supernatural
  5. Giving notice at work

1. The winter bug comes around annually around now. Some years it passes me by and some years I get hit worse than most. It’s quite common for me to spend a few days in December ‘hibernating’, sleeping up to 15 hours per day.

2. Unfortunately at times I have a rather sensitive stomach. My siblings all seem to have cast iron stomachs, so I lost out on this quality in the genetic lottery.

3. So normally I do the Hochmah meditation before morning prayers. My mind is often quite calm then without any build up of emotions during the day. Due to unforeseen circumstances I had to delay this meditation until after lunch. Masaru Emoto has done experiments on emotions on the structure of water and since this meditation involves drinking a glass of water at the end – well I’ll let you fill in the blanks.
(image courtesy of CW Print Creative)

4. After several years I’ve finally got to the last episode of season 5 in the TV series Supernatural. I’m not sure how that might be related to being violently sick every half hour on Saturday night except perhaps some emotional release that I have yet to fully grasp.

5. So after half a year of knowing job cuts are coming at work, the new organization structure is finally being rolled out. Although there is no voluntary redundancy this time, the option is available to let it be known that you’d rather be left out of the new organization structure.

Since I’ve been at the company and its parent company for half my working life, now seems as good a time as any to move on and expand my experience as a project manager. On Saturday afternoon I finally made the decision to ask to be made redundant and I think that it really hit me on Saturday night. Gordon mentions a similar experience of feeling of release when he stopped using his branded Oyster Card holder. My body’s reaction to deciding to leave the company has been… well let’s just say that I feel detoxed.

In summary, the meditation is on track and due to finish on the 23rd. The reading is going well. I’ve already started eating and drinking like a mystic (bread and water) and I feel cleaner inside. I just hope that my next epiphany will be a bit gentler.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Treadwells Talk: “Witchcraft Accusation in Africa”

Treadwells Talk: “Witchcraft Accusation in Africa”
by Zoe Young and Saskia Evans.
Monday 06 December 2010

The talk was introduced by Christina and although the number of attendees was not as high as some other talks I’ve attended – it filled up as the talk progressed (which is unusual as the front door is normally locked during talks).

Zoe started by outlining how she got involved through the Women’s Empowerment Network in making a documentary on witchcraft accusations in Ghana. She stated that missionaries are very active in Ghana and that misogyny and gender inequality were at the root of witchcraft accusations. The problem was as prevalent in the Christian dominated areas as the Islamic dominated areas.

(Picture courtesy of Simon Albury on Flickr)
Times of stress and change in lifestyle combined with lack of understanding of mental illnesses also contribute to witchcraft accusations. Witch accusations are not done in a systematic way, such as being led by a witch-finder General. Rather is it more spontaneous and the root is quite complex to unravel. Whether the accusation is because someone is impotent, a child has died, jealousy between a man’s wives (he can have up to 4) or simple alcoholism. Once the accusation is made and the woman (or man) survives the assault, they are then taken to the local chief or fetish priest.

Ghana’s hereditary spirit workers are called fetish priests. Accused women are taken to them for de-witching, he then does a ritual to test her and even if she passes the stigma of the accusation does not go away. Because an accused woman cannot return to her village, she ends up living in a witch camp. There are at least 6 or 7 of these camps with upwards of a thousand women (with some men) living in these camps. Because communication is so bad in parts of the country – new camps are being found all the time.

The aim of the documentary is to highlight this problem of witchcraft accusations. The TV in Ghana is dominated by American bible bashers in the South and Iranian influence in the North.  97% of people in Ghana believe in witchcraft and although none of the people interviewed who had been accused of witchcraft admitted to using witchcraft – each one knew of someone else who did.

Fetish Priests hold respect in society and will advertise their services next to for example church billboards advertising prayer camps. This syncretistic worldview highlights the complexity of the environment in which witchcraft accusations are made.

However, the processes of accusations follow a fairly familiar path:
  1. someone has a dream about a person
  2. accusation is made against that person
  3. if the accused has children, they will speak up and fight on her behalf
  4. there may be a mod assault on the accused
  5. the accused is dragged to see chief or fetish priest
  6. the fetish priest tests the person with a “concoction”**
**  - whose components they would not reveal. If the accused lied about using witchcraft, then the fetish priest’s shrine could kill that person.

The women who were shown in the film at the end of the talk were mostly old women, often without living children or were women who were too assertive and successful. The aim of the documentary is to focus on the human rights violations with a feminist slant. The documentary also did (in my opinion) a good job of showing the situation with the layers of complexity that exist, rather than trying to simplify it and viewing it through “white European lenses”.

Zoe and Saskia are looking for more investment to complete their documentary. Please get in touch via (remove spaces in email address) zoe at zoeyoung dot net

Project Managing Magic: Chaos, Complexity and Strategic Sorcery

See article by “December PM World Today eJournal” called: “Project Management, Chaos theory and the Butterfly Effect” by By Robert Gordon & Wanda Curlee.

Article summary: In the beginning it seemed that Order reigned supreme; then chaos theory came along and eventually gained traction. Chaos theory has given rise to Complexity theory and Project Managers are today struggling with handling complexity.

In fact the theme of this year’s Project Management Institute (PMI) one day meeting held in Reading, United Kingdom was all about managing complexity. In the article referenced above, there are three quotes in particular that caught my attention:
“The butterfly effect is the understanding that all forces are connected. Taking this to project management, when a project is moving forward, is best to try to put all the forces working in the same direction.”
From a kabbalistic viewpoint, all of reality (both seen and unseen) is connected. The above quote also relates to “as above, so below”. In other words since things are interconnected, in order to get things moving above it also needs to get moving below (or vice versa).
“What makes complexity theory different than the traditional open systems theory is that the theory acknowledges that there are parts of the system that cannot be explained but acknowledges that there is normalcy in the randomness (Byrne, 1998).”
Also in magical working there is (in my understanding) an acknowledgment that there are parts of the system that cannot be explained or understood. Whether it is the means that a spirit, god, or other entity achieves a desired result or the way that a magical act has a manifest effect on reality – if this was fully understood it would fall in the realm of rational science rather than magical thinking.
“Seasoned project managers realize that all parts of the projects cannot be controlled; nor would they want to have full control of the project.”
I would like to put forward the hypothesis that also in the realm of magical working that not all parts can be controlled. In fact, from what I have read trying to exert too much control on the desired means by which a result can manifest will often result in undesired effects. That’s not to say that a working should be done and then forgotten about. Head for Red recently posted an article about keeping focus on amulets once they were in use.

So what about the scenario in which an initiate uses multiple paths to achieving a result? Let’s call that a “strategic approach” of coming at a problem from multiple angles at the same time. Well, that is exactly what this article is about. Taking in to account: 1) butterfly effect, 2) unexplained parts of the system and 3) trying not to control all parts. This means that trying to get all the paths working together is a fine balancing act, keeping the project from collapsing in to chaos and managing the complexity by trying to break it down as much as possible.

My experience as a Project Manager has been that clear and well understood communication paths are essential for managing a complex project. Not only to make sure that the right communication happens at the right time, to the right people in the right way – but also to make sure that such communication did not generate any additional complexity of its own.

OK, so even writing that last sentence has my head spinning. Now think about what the effects might be if an initiate uses a talisman, curse and servitor or summoned entity (i.e. lots of different ways) to get a desired outcome. They might all work, but how will they interact with each other?

With this line of reasoning I find myself arguing against the approach taken by Strategic Sorcery , in the sense that using too many approaches to solve a single problem increases complexity and hence risk beyond what is necessary. However, I acknowledge that my scant theoretical knowledge of magic and sorcery outweighs by practical knowledge by quite a bit.

So in conclusion I think that this needs further investigation - by trying out a single approach to solve a problem or multiple approaches at the same time. Perhaps the multipath approach simply increases the percentage chance of meeting success criteria. On the other hand (based on complexity as experienced in projects and other areas of work), the multipath approach could lead to “interference” between avenues to success and possibly even increased probability of undesired side-effects.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Spiritual Regeneration: Make the Dream Happen

Rune Soup has posted an interesting article about creating your own Festival of Festivals.

Why is it important to start your spiritual regeneration at this point in the year? Well, the Solstice is coming up and soon the shortest day of the year will pass, leading to the days starting to get ever longer until Spring arrives. Did I say Spring? We're barely in to Winter!

However, it's in winter that the seeds and sap stays in the ground getting ready to germinate and rise in the spring. New beginnings, like seeds, start small and often develop out of sight (such as in the dark cool earth).

Importance of a Good Beginning

Project Managers know that the start of a project is a crucial time (see PM World article). If it starts badly, then the rest of the project is often spent trying to recover from the bad start - which takes away focus from other important areas. So the advice I'd like to share as a Project Manager is: start as you mean to go on.

Which brings me on to the important subject of dreams. The dreams that you have in your sleep and the dreams that you create to build hope and impetus for a better future. In this last week's Torah portion the story of Pharaoh's dreams are told. Not too long before that we read about Joseph's dreams and the Rabbi asked the following question of our congregation: “What is the difference between these dreams?”

* Link to Jospeh's dream: Genesis 37:5-10
* Link to Pharaoh's dream: Genesis 41:1-7

Differences in Dreams

The difference between Joseph's dream and that of Pharaoh is that Joseph was an active participant in his dream unlike Pharaoh who was passive. Pharaoh also got his servant Joseph to act on his dream and make them a reality.

So ask yourself: “Have I been a passive participant of my dreams recently, an observer? Or have I been an active participant, making things happen?” Then ask yourself: “Is my spiritual/magical development going strong? Or does it need a period of regeneration to germinate in to a stronger form for the coming seasons?”

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the overt focus on materialism at this time of year. If you are going to start the next phase of your spiritual or magical development, make sure it's with the best possible start. So why not start with a celebration to commence the period of re-growth, to focus the mind on the spiritual and magical dimensions/aspects of life?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Project: Understanding the Merkavah User Manual in 2000 pages or less

Whilst my Wisdom in 40 days project is underway, I've taken on a second project to gain some more academic knowledge about Merkavah and Hechalot Mysticism. Here are a couple of links to definitions of Ma'aseh Merkavah (workings of the chariot) on Wikipedia and Jewish Encyclopedia.

Putting it in project terms, here is a brief summary:
  • Scope: Read 2000 pages of academic literature on Merkavah and Hechalot Mysticism
  • Time: 7 month deadline
  • Cost: Sunk cost of books purchased to date is in region of £200-300. No further purchases expected.
  • Quality: Not applicable (see below)
  • Communication: Periodic reviews of books on this blog and LiveJournal from a non-academic perspective.
  • Risks: Information overload or issues in life getting in the way.
Here is a list of the books that will be read over the next 7 months at the expected rate of 10 pages per day. This is a rather arbitrary metric in that it in no conveys any comprehension of the topics discussed in these books. Coming from an academic background involving life sciences and computing, words such as phenomenological, hermeneutics and zoomorphic-anthropomorphism will take some getting used to.

In order to assess the level of understanding of this material and integrate it in to my current limited understanding of Jewish mysticism in general, I am planning to give an introductory talk on the subject of Merkavah Mysticism around the middle of 2011. That will address the question of comprehension and quality measurements as the success criteria of this endeavour are to find out if I've learnt enough to present an informed introduction to this subject and answer questions from the lecture audience.

This is the list of books that will be read between now and the middle of 2011:

Beholders of Divine Secrets: Mysticism and Myth in the Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature
Vita Daphna Arbel
262 pages

Jewish Mysticism and Magic: An Anthropological Perspective (Routledge Jewish Studies)
Maureen Bloom
231 pages

Through a Speculum That Shines
Elliot R. Wolfson
462 pages

The Hidden and Manifest God: Some Major Themes in Early Jewish Mysticism (SUNY Series in Judaica)
Peter Schafer (Author), Aubrey Pomerance (Translator)
198 pages

The Poetics of Ascent: Theories of Language in a Rabbinic Ascent Text (Suny Series in Judaica : Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Culture)
Naomi Janowitz
172 pages

Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism)
James R. Davila
342 pages

Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition
Gershom G. Scholem (Author)
102 pages

Ritual Practices to Gain Power: Angels, Incantations, and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism (Harvard Theological Studies series)
Rebecca Macy Lesses
400 pages

Optional books, these are included in the category of "stretch goal":

Jewish Mysticism: The Infinite Expression of Freedom
Rachel Elior(Author), Yudith Nave (Translator), Arthur B. Millman (Translator)
207 pages

Inner Space: Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation and Prophecy
Aryeh Kaplan
254 pages

The Early Kabbalah (Classics of Western Spirituality)
Joseph Dan (Editor), Ronald C. Kiener (Translator)
224 pages

Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts from the Cairo Genizah (Semitic Texts and Studies)
Lawrence Schiffmann (Author), Michael Swartz (Author)
158 pages

Books I do not own but might consider adding to this small collection:

A Transparent Illusion: The Dangerous Vision of Water in Hekhalot Mysticism : A Source-Critical and Tradition-Historical Inquiry (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism)
Christopher R. A. Morray-Jones
322 pages

The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism
Rachel Elior
301 pages

The one question that has been going around my head all week when deciding whether to take on this project or not is - why? Why read all this literature and perhaps not even get the chance to try to read and translate the texts? The simple answer is that the project is a nice way to package up actually reading through all the books in one go having attempted to read one or two of them in the past. The other reason is my hypothesis that trying to understand any later works of Kababalah and Jewish Mysticism is incomplete without properly understanding this body of knowledge.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Setting Expectations and Measuring Success

I started a daily meditation a couple of weeks ago to gain Wisdom (Hochmah) and like any good project manager I wanted to do a frequent review to see how things were progressing. Making sure that the check part of plan-do-check-act gets some love and attention. Anyway, the thing is – I had no idea how to measure the success of this working.

Here's the project Management bit about the importance of setting expectations and measuring success,

“One important thing for a Project Manager is to set expectations about the likely outcome of a project or part of a project. It's no use reporting that the status is 'Green' until the last week of a project only to report 'Red' at the end - when the signs were indicating that things were going wrong for at least a couple of weeks. Such as one or more risks actually occurring and adversely affecting the project or maturation of the end product not tracking against a predicted curve.

Metrics are a useful measure of progress towards success, but they can also indicate when things are going off-track. One common problem on projects is that the wrong metrics are chosen. The metrics may have worked on a previous success and been good indicators of whether the project is likely to meet the success criteria or not. But on a different project those same metrics may be partly or wholly inappropriate.“

So let's look at a biblical example of a situation where an expectation has been set – but because the wrong measure of success was applied the project was in danger of going off-target. It's in the story of Joseph when he sold by his brothers and ends up in Egypt that he comes across Potiphar's wife. Rashi explains that the story of her attempt to seduce Joseph is next to the story of Judah and Tamar to indicate that they were both acting for the sake of Heaven.

Potiphar's wife was acting for the sake of Heaven? My first impression on coming across this bit of information was incredulity followed by curiosity. Anyway, Rashi goes on to explain the verse

“And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph” ( Genesis 39:7)
Why does the Torah adjoin the incident of Potiphar's wife to the incident of Tamar? To tell us that just as Tamar acted for the sake of Heaven, so did Potiphar's wife act for the sake of Heaven. For she saw through her astrologers that she was destined to produce children from him. But she did not know whether through herself or through her daughter (Joseph married Potiphar's daughter, as per Genesis 41:45)

Potiphar's wife had the expectation set by astrologers that her line would continue through Joseph. However, she mistakenly assumed that it would be through her and hence was only focused on one measure of success. Namely how likely it was that Joseph would sleep with her. She tried to entrap him, it failed and she ended up accusing him of attempting to rape her. In the end Potiphar chose not to sentence his servant to death but rather imprison him as he was not wholly convinced of his wife's accusation and his daughter pleaded Joseph's innocence.

So back to my daily meditation to gain Wisdom. Last week my ears started ringing and it sounded like I could hear distant conversation. This got me rather excited as I though that perhaps I was developing some form of remote listening ability or perhaps hearing the voices on the other side of the Heavenly curtain. It turns out though that the ringing in my ears was due to having cleaned them too vigorously with cotton buds and after a few days my hearing was back to normal.

Anyway, lesson learnt is that whilst it is good to reflect and check progress of a working. Making assumptions about the route to success or setting too defined limits on the form in which success can manifest is silly at best and dangerous at worst.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Risk management of Ghosts

The other night I was pottering around the house when I heard a woman call my name from upstairs. Thinking that it was my wife I made my way upstairs to speak to her only to remember halfway up the stairs that she was out running errands. My pace slowed, I peeked around the door frame and when a cold chill went down my spine – I ran back down the stairs as fast as my legs could carry me.

Immediately my mind went in to overdrive. Was it a ghost? Was it a heavenly voice? Was it a voice in my head due to lack of sleep?

Putting on my project manager hat I scanned my bookshelf for inspiration and started drawing up a plan of action. The first thing was to define the problem domain, in other words to work out what the origin of the voice was so the problem could be resolved. Next to do a risk assessment on dealing with the uninvited manifestation of the female voice and then to take action!

So cracking open my copy of Rabbi Dennis’ excellent “Jewish Myths, Magic and Mysticism” I looked up the entries for ghosts, heavenly voices and other likely causes. I had a flick through Chajes’ “Between Worlds”; however since I’ve only read the opening chapters I was unsure of whether it contained any practical details for conducting an exorcism. Then booting up my computer, I looked up the definitions of RISKS from the Project Management body of knowledge and put together a risk register.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (3rd edition) PMBOK

Risk. An uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has appositive or negative effect on a project’s objectives. See also risk category and risk breakdown structure.

Here is an example of one of the risks captured the risk register in response to the (possibly) ghostly encounter.

Statement of Fact: Heard a incorporeal female voice
Risk: Could be a ghost
Probable Outcome: Could have a haunting related to an object or location.
Mitigation: If related to an object, then destroy the item. If related to a place, then may need to do an exorcism.

Well, as you can imagine at this point my fear of the ghostly encounter was fading fast as I started documenting risks and trying to come up with a plan. Rabbi Dennis’ book had helped provide more information and hence give more detail to the potential problem domain. The risk register was starting to look quite promising with various mitigation strategies being worked out.

After a couple of hours of analysis and planning I’d mapped out a mini-project to help deal with this uninvited manifestation of a female voice and was getting ready to cautiously make my way back upstairs with some salt and iron (thanks Supernatural). Unfortunately as they say “no plan survives contact with the enemy” and before I could action a single risk mitigation in my carefully crafted plan, my wife came home and went upstairs.

Creeping slowly up the stairs after her I mentioned hearing a voice call my name and she promptly laughed it off. Since any occultist worth her salt will tell you that laughter is amongst the most powerful forms of exorcisms - I realized that my wife had just solved the problem for me. I went to bed that night safe in the knowledge that combining good project management practice, occult knowledge and an unintended joke that all problems can be overcome whether natural or otherwise.

Plus I now have another chapter in my electronic grimoire called: “Ghosts, how to manage haunting within the framework of project management best practices and psychic defense”.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Failure Demons

Many years ago I was in an interview to do a Master’s degree course and suddenly the interviewer asked me: “Are you driven by a fear of failure?”

I stammered “no” and explained how I was motivated by getting positive results rather than fear of failure. But all the while there was a voice screaming in my head “YES! DAMMIT I LIVE IN FEAR OF FAILURE ALL THE TIME!” Surprisingly the University did offer me a place on their degree course. I declined and went to study at another University which offered a course curriculum that I knew to be one of the hardest in the country.

After the hardest year of studying my life, I passed the Master’s and vowed never to study anything ever again whether for a certificate or for the fun of it. Some years later I sat a Project Management accreditation exam and I’ve spent a large period of time between my Master’s and now reading books on Kabbalah.

So why do I continue to challenge myself and choose to study a topic (i.e. Kabbalah) that is both obscure and arguably not very practical in everyday life? Well, fear of failure of course. It’s the engine that motivates me to get out of bed in the morning, achieve well at work and work towards gaining seemingly supernatural powers to make the world a better place. If something is worth doing and it’s worth doing well – then it’s my fear of failure that carries me kicking and screaming over the finish line.

One area that I randomly chose to start improving is writing comedy. Having no previous knowledge or experience I bought a book and read a couple of chapters. In the “The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You're Not “ by John Vorhaus - the author mentions that being funny is a hit and miss game with an expected success rate of 10%. That made me take pause and consider whether I did indeed want to carry on trying to learn how to be funny if my success rate is so low. Just as I was about to put down the book a little voice in my head shouted: “DANGER! DANGER! IMMINENT FAILURE DETECTED!”

Having taken a day to think about – I’m reminded about how I learned things as a child. It was all about trial and error. Failure back then just meant trying again with the worst outcome being a nose bleed. So at what stage did it stop being acceptable to fail? I think that the answer is at school where it was not acceptable to fail exams. This was reinforced at University and failure at work can lead to a very short career.

So would it surprise you to know that upwards of 70% of projects are considered failures? Well that is the world that a Project Manager operates in. Failure is abhorrent and yet seemingly all around. Hence today I’ve decided to take a stand and return to the playful mentality of years past to say that the best way to learn is through trial and error (within safe parameters).

That’s not to say that it’s all a game as projects are business critical and can make or break businesses. In the realm of magic – such things as summoning and exorcisms are not games either as the results of failure can be catastrophic. Rather continuous learning is about looking back frequently at small mistakes and using lessons learnt to improve next time.

My mind is teeming with new ideas and theories, but I almost never try them out. My recent endeavour to do a 40 day meditation to acquire Wisdom is my most daring in three years! Gaining wisdom, where’s the risk in that? Well, it’s not so much the risk but rather the fear of failure. What happens if it does not work? What happens if it works too well? What if… What if… Argh! “DANGER! DANGER! “

OK, I must remember the 10% rule of success.  If it works at least 10% of the time and the consequences of failure are not catastrophic then it is worth trying. The demon of Fear of Failure does not need to be exorcised or destroyed. It just needs some time out to learn with me that trial and error is OK.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Saying: "I Don't know"

Sorry, I Don’t Know

Runesoup has an excellent article about giving magical advice. My experience to date has fortunately been more along the lines of people asking me where they can find out more about particular topics, rather than giving advice on how to overcome a particular problem.

One example of people asking me for further information is: are there any links between creating a zombie and building a golem. That question still has me stumped but having re-read some parts of Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis’s excellent book: Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism – I may have found another source to research this topic further.

A little knowledge

The reason for this particular example is that my standard response is: “I don’t know”. Most people are familiar with the expression: ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. I’d like to amend that expression with regards to giving magical advice (and advice in general) to: ‘a little knowledge as the basis for giving advice is a dangerous thing’.

I’m not trying to belittle anyone, there are plenty of people that I have regular interaction with whose knowledge and experience dwarfs mine. Literally I feel an inch tall next to these people and at best I’m in the category of a donkey carrying books – i.e. having sufficient knowledge to refer to sources, but that’s it.


So if giving advice on what actions to take is not something to be promoted, how should one help when asked for advice? My answer is to provide people with the tools that they need to figure it out for themselves. This is in part my motivation for posting articles on how project management knowledge and skills can help with magical work and development.

The tools themselves are a very broad subject that ranges from “good practices from lessons learned”, to structured techniques such as risk analysis and work breakdown structures, all the way to soft skills of people management and emotional intelligence. Asking for help is a sign of professional maturity in my line of work, it demonstrates a desire to learn and improve and be able to work it out for one’s self in future.

Lesson Learnt: giving advice can be detrimental. Help someone with continuous learning and development so that they can learn figure it out for themselves.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Project Management & Magic: Choosing the right Process

Having established that magical workings and projects are temporary endeavours undertaken to create a unique product, service or result – let’s look at different ways of achieving them. One thing to note is that a distinction needs to be drawn between magical techniques and worldviews or belief systems.

An example of two magical techniques is where one is improvised on the spot and another involves an elaborate ritual that requires months of planning. Both approaches might be used by say a druid, a Solomnic magician and a cabbalist even though their worldviews and belief systems may differ quite a bit.

So in terms of projects a good Project Manager will use a toolbox of processes as required for any particular project. Some organizations are more supportive of process being tailored for each project whilst others insist that the same project processes are used for each project even if they are not suitable such as not scaling well between tiny and huge projects.

The basics of Project Management (PM) as outlined in the PM Body Of Knowledge, (3rd edition, pp39):

3.1 Project Management Processes
…An underlying concept for interaction among project management processes is the plan-do-check-act (as defined by Shewart and modified by Demin, in ASQ Handbook, pages 13-14, American Society for Quality, 1999). This cycle is liked by results – the result from one part of the cycle becomes the input to another…

The PMBOK then goes on to elaborate on the slightly more complex process cycle of Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Control and Closing processes.


So taking the plan-do-check-act as the simplest cycle, an example of use of this is something that I do fairly regularly when travelling on London Public transport. As most commuters will tell you that waiting for a bus during winter in London is no pleasant undertaking. Using the simple plan-do-check-act cycle I’ll "plan" to summon a bus, the “do” part is simply chanting ‘bus, bus, bus’ whilst visualizing the imminent arrival of a bus. The “check” part involves looking out for a bus and the “act” part is either choosing whether to wait a bit longer or deciding to walk to the next bus-stop if it's a better albeit slower way of keeping warm.

One word of caution is that if the ‘bus, bus, bus’ chant is used too often whilst waiting for a bus – you’re likely to get at three or more coming thundering past!


Another example of project process is the Waterfall model. This is a model that was previously popular in the software development world. It involves the requirement capture, design, implementation, testing and release being done in a serial manner. In other words, no implementation is done before design is completed and testing does not start before implementation is done. A magical equivalent is Abramelin in which there is a specific sequence of tasks that the initiate needs to do in a specific order. Whilst there are many who try to cut corners and reduce the time and effort for this working, this breaks the process. See Aaron Leitch’s blog comments on why it pays to do it right. 


The next process to become popular addressed some of the key weaknesses of the Waterfall way of working. Iterative and Incremental development aimed to shorten the design-implement-test cycle and instead of it being done once – to have it repeated a number of times over the project lifecycle.
In magical terms what this may relate to is a repetition of a ritual in order to achieve a particular refinement. For example, a magician who wants to create an astral temple in which to carry out magical workings may start of by planning and carrying out a series of visualization meditations on constructing this temple in ever sharper focus and detail. Keeping a record of their activities and a dream diary, the initiate would plan each part, visualize it, dream about it and then make necessary adjustments thereby following the iterative process of working.


At approximately the same time that Iterative ways of working were becoming more popular, Extreme Programming was also on the rise in some organizations:

Extreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology which is intended to improve software quality and responsiveness to changing customer requirements. As a type of agile software development it advocates frequent "releases" in short development cycles (timeboxing), which is intended to improve productivity and introduce checkpoints where new customer requirements can be adopted.

This way of working not only adapts to change very quickly, but it actually embraces change and incorporates it well. However, maintaining a level of discipline in this way of working is challenging and without regular feedback the project can quickly go off track.

So from a magical perspective this way of working is being constantly mindful of one’s environment and reacting accordingly with whatever magical practices are required. Rather than spending a lot of time researching (design) or doing complex rituals (implementation and testing), the initiate takes input from their environment (people and places) and responds as needed. No long term planning is done and development of techniques is done in the moment. It grows organically out of each situation the initiate finds themselves in.


The final project process to be discussed and the one that is rising in popularity in the software development world is Agile. This way of working incorporates the adaptability to changing requirements, frequent releases, simplicity, self-organizing teams and a sustainable way of working.

Rather than say implementing each level of a software stack one above the other until the full stack allows for phone calls to be made on a mobile, Agile takes use cases and scenarios that the customer wants and implements thin slices of vertical functionality. So the difference to the layer by layer approach is that in Agile a use case might be to make emergency calls and after the first few iterations that may be all that the software can do, no normal voice or data calls may be possible. However in future releases additional use cases and scenarios are implemented. In the layer by layer (cake) model each part of the software provides full support for voice, data, emergency calls, handovers, etc. But this complete solution would not be working until the very end of the project when it all gets integrated together.

An example of Agile working is a self-organizing group of initiates (is such a thing possible?) that have a vague high level plan for achieving a particular goal and meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to plan and put in to practice the details of the upcoming rituals and magical workings. As noted in a previous post completing the meditations in Sefer Yetzirah to achieve the level where an initiate can create a golem or turn lead in to gold takes three years. Agile would be a suitable way of managing the joint development of initiates to progress their meditations, demonstrate their abilities at letter combinations / permutations and understanding of the workings of creation, as well as review & adapt to changes in the initiates and their environments.

Having taken a whistle stop tour through several different software development processes and their potential applications in the field of magic, I hope that you have seen how different approaches have their advantages and limitations. From what I’ve read online and having spoken to folks at occult bookshops - some use processes that mirror Extreme programming, to those that work in a way very similar to the Waterfall process. For some workings more structure is better and for others not. Let experience and common sense be your faithful guides.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

How did I get to this place?

Last night my beloved and I were getting ready to go to sleep when she pointed at my book at said: “Why do you have interest in reading such things?” The book, whose introduction I'd just started reading, was “Beholders of Divine Secrets: Mysticism in the Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature” by Vita Daphna Arbel.

What my beloved was really asking was not just about this book in particular, but instead my general hobby (it's not an obsession, honest) with Kabbalah, mysticism, magic and the occult. My answer to that was not very satisfactory in that it could be summarized as “I'm just drawn to these things”. They're not something that many have an interest in; it's considered hidden knowledge by some; and well it's just cool really. Doesn't everyone think the same about this?

Apparently not.

Instead of giving a detailed story of how my interest and passion in this field developed, I'll instead outline three scenarios of possible events in my life and ask you to guess which one is true.

Scenario 1: Cue violins

Having grown up a rather socially awkward lad, a family member took an interest in guiding this boy's keen and curious mind. All manner of subjects were broached including those that some teenagers would shy away from in a group not of their peers. Library visits were encouraged to explore the arts and sciences, as well as long walks in countryside to get close to nature.

However, this relative had a darker side. Perhaps it was a mental illness or some twisted desire to see how far they could use their manipulative personality to influence and dominate such gullible a young person. After many tales from this relative of contact with angels and other spirits the young lad grew ever more curious to find out about the occult. Pressing his older relative for a genuine experience of this hidden world - he finally learnt that it had all been a ruse.

After much soul-searching and anger, the lad grew to be a man and decided that he would one day become an authority in this field. No man, woman or spirit would ever lead him astray for their own ends. Knowledge is power the man decided and with that power he would become free.

Scenario 2: Family spirits

The family has long had an interest in ghosts and contact with those who have passed on. It's never something spoken about in family gatherings, but if you know what to look for then the hints are all around. Simple things like the witch bottles in the toilet, the mirror on the landing with lions around the frame, a magic mirror with sigils accidentally dug up in the garden and the curious mix of herbs growing in the window-box.

Outings to meet new family friends seemed like a delightful experience at first. There's a new house to explore, garden to run around in and perhaps even pancakes. Some houses have funny smells from candles and damp walls with ancient pictures. Others are bright and airy with wind chimes by the windows and strange bees on the lawn that do not sting - which the large dog chases around and around.

Each time the coffee and sweets have been cleared away the children are shooed away to run and shout to their hearts content. The adults speak of serious things, voices touched by sorrow of family members now in heaven. But overhearing conversation standing in the kitchen doorway or half-way down the stairs the thread of conversation becomes hard to follow as relatives long gone are given a voice. The messages are passed to and fro with some tears and occasional laughter. Upon leaving one house the lady of the house declines to shake hands, she smiles sadly and says it's how she looks in to a person's past.

Scenario 3: Invocation Interrupted

Torn from his native soil and brought to a land in which he could not speak the language, the cultural shift widened the void in the boy's life rather than papering it over. Home ceased to be place and instead became a state a mind. One readily sought after but not one that was easy to achieve or maintain.

So a new family was sought to make up for the one left shattered in pieces, A stronger and broader family who supported and nurtured. Curiously it did not so much come in the shape of a family unit but rather a religious movement. Though the tenants and practises of faith seemed constraining to some, it's structure came a breath of fresh air and forged order where once life had been chaos.

However, the past lay unresolved and needed to be dealt with lest it rears its ugly head once again. Lacking the necessary skills to deal with this lurking chaos another strategy came to mind. That of using an invocation in a rare book to bring about a solution. But alas the incantation was interrupted and before there was time to arrange another attempt to repeat it the damage had been done. Instead of strengthening the existing order - it was shattered. With life spinning out of control, the decision was taken to return to that point again in future. This time with knowledge, understanding and a mountain load of preparation.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Project: 40 Days for Wisdom

Source: “Walking in the Fire: Classical Torah/Kabbalistic Meditations, Practises & Prayers” by HaRav Ariel Bar Tzadok. Rav of

SECTION 4: Prayers & Segulot
Segulah L’Hochmah
An Invocation for Wisdom from The Book of the Angel Raziel
“Recite this prayer seven times over a glass of water and then drink it. Repeat this for 40 days in a row.
Halakha (Law): Holy names and angelic names must never be spoken aloud. They should only be contemplated upon and recited silently. Warning! Violating this law can invoke angelic wrath and provoke a curse instead of a blessing.”

See the book quoted above for the translation (and transliteration) of the text from this portion of Sefer Raziel.

Scope: Use prayer for Chochmah / Wisdom to boost initiate
Time: 40 days, starting 13 November 2010 / 6 Kislev 5771
Cost: 1 glass of water per day, plus sufficient time for repetition of prayer 7 times per day
Quality: The success criterion for this project is a significant improvement in ability to understand of Chochmah / Wisdom. This is a subjective measure of success and findings at the end will indicate whether it worked or not.
To Emenator: Daily prayer seven times a day over glass of water.
If time permits, blog updates on any noticeable changes during 40 day period.
Fast on 17th of Tevet, must ensure that prayer time does not overlap with fast [ Probability: High, Impact: High]. If a day is missed, the procedure needs to be started anew.
Initiate may not be of sufficient receptivity to handle influx of Wisdom. [Probablity: Medium, Impact: High]. This can be mitigated by stopping the procedure if adverse affects manifest during the 40 days.
Procedure may not work. [Probability: Low, Impact: Hight]. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
May mispronounce name or lose count of prayers. [Probability: Low, Impact: High]. If count goes badly wrong then may need to start 40 days anew or may due to mis-pronounciation get unpredictable results.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Communication: Words have power

Words have Power
“Words have power” is an expression that many of us have heard. Those who are parents and reading this may be familiar with the pattern of behaviour in which anything relating to “sleep” and children is not mentioned in the same sentence – as this will result in the children waking up and the whole cycle of “trying to get them to sleep” starts over again. My own recent experience of words having power was telling someone that I went for an interview to refresh my interview skills; however I did actually want that job. I heard the next day that I did not get the job. Did my careless choice of words turn an interview that was good practice and one I wanted in to just good practice interview?
In this article we’ll examine the power of words from a Project Management, NLP and Kabbalistic point of view. Skip to the summary at the end if you just want to get the essence of this article.
The Project Management Part

There’s a LOT of information written about communication. How to be good at it, when to do it, whom to communicate with and what happens when communication breaks down. From a Kabbalistic perspective existence is based on Divine “sayings” that are continuously sustaining everything that was, is and will be. If this were to cease then everything that we know of would cease.

However, before we get too deep in to the Kabbalistic viewpoint of communication and speech let’s take a look at the Project Management side of things. Here is an extract from the excellent book by Peter Taylor called “The Lazy Project Manager” that show how to work in the most effective manner with the least effort.

The Lazy Project Manager (Peter Taylor), pp. 54
Communicate as others need you to communicate

This whole book is really about communication, but this part specifically covers communication. And lazy project managers will think very, very carefully about what they need to communicate and how they need to communicate it, and why they are communicating what they are communicating. The general guidance is that 70% of a project manager’s time will be spent in communicating. That’s 70%!

So we can see that from a Project Management point of view, one place that needs most effort (and where potentially most savings of effort can be made) is in communication.

Now let’s look at the Project Management Institute’s take on communication. It provides a definition of communication if that’s not of interest then please skip this next quote.

PMBoK (Project Management Body of Knowledge, 3rd ed, Chapter 10)

“…Communication skills are related to, but are not the same as, project management communications. The art of communications is a broad subject and involves a substantial body of knowledge including:
Sender-Receiver models. Feedback loops and barriers to communication.
Choice of Media. When to communicate in writing versus orally, when to write an informal memo versus a formal report, and when to communicate activities face-to-face versus email. The media chosen for communication activities will depend upon the situation.
Writing style. Active versus passive voice, sentence structure, and word choice.
Presentation techniques. Body language and design of visual aids. Meeting management techniques. Preparing an agenda and dealing with conflict…”

According to this definition communication comes in different forms, that it must be between two things/people and that how the message is conveyed as well as the media of transmission are important.


Let’s take look briefly at another discipline which focuses largely on communication. In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Representational Systems are defined as:

Representational systems (also known as sensory modalities and abbreviated to VAKOG or known as the 4-tuple) is a neuro-linguistic programming model that examines how the human mind processes information. It states that for practical purposes, information is (or can be treated as if) processed through the senses. Thus people say one talks to oneself (the auditory sense) even if no words are emitted, one makes pictures in one's head when thinking or dreaming (the visual sense), and one considers feelings in the body and emotions (known as the kinesthetic sense).

I’m no NLP expert but from what little I’ve read it seems that some people use words related about visual things, auditory things or kinesthetic things. For example “I see what you mean”, “That rings true”, or “I’m finding it hard to grasp what this article is about”.

Kabalistic Part

Having set out that communication is important in project success, defined means of communication and commented (via NLP briefly) on how people want to be communicated to – let’s take a look at how words and letters themselves can affect reality. This is the basic premise in Sefer Yetzirah that an initiate of sufficient practice and ability is able to reach a level of consciousness to be able to manipulate the world around them and do seemingly magical things.

A really good article on this topic can be found here:

by Rachel Evelyne Barenblat
This is an extract from Rachel's Thesis, submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Religion at WILLIAMS COLLEGE, Williamstown, Massachusetts, April 24, 1996

Here is an extract from the end of this article:

The Sefer Yetzirah provides a way for the mystic to strive towards the Divine through the manipulation of Hebrew letters. Despite the fact that letters are the primary tool used to strive towards God, the mystic somehow enters into a nonverbal state of consciousness, in which letters lose their ordinary meaning. In this state of mystical consciousness, the raw power of the letters is released, and the mystic gains access to what is "really real" within the letters, which is their reality as divine emanation.

This book is not simply an explanatory text of the Kabbalistic school of Ma’aseh Bereishit (Workings of Creation), it is in fact a book use for meditation that an initiate can use to reach these levels of consciousness as outlined by Rachel Evelyne Barenblat and Rabbi Kaplan above. It is a grimoire if you will that transforms the initiate in to a person whose words can manipulate reality to create a golem, to create an astral body to explore the Heavenly realms, to turn lead in to gold and to perform all manner of seemingly magical things.


Project Managers spend a lot of their time on communication hence they - if they’re good PMs - choose how, when and in particular what to communicate very carefully. NLP shows us that when it comes to the how – if you’re not communicating using the words that they relate to then some or all of the message will be lost. Sefer Yetzirah comes along and shows how letters and words themselves are vehicles of Divine energy that shape reality. An initiate of sufficient ability and practice can use this to reshape reality.

So when communicating with others, it pays not only to be mindful of speaking in words that they relate to. But to also be mindful that those same words could be shaping your and their reality with unintended results due to a poor choice of words. I’ll leave you with a story of the Baal Shem Tov (see: that illustrates this point:

In one story, a quarrel erupted between two local men in the Baal Shem Tov's synagogue. In a fit of anger, one of them shouted, "I will tear you to pieces like a fish." The Baal Shem Tov instructed his students, who had all witnessed the altercation, to stand near him and close their eyes. Suddenly, the students shouted in terror, as they were shown a vision of the man at whom the non-serious threat was directed being dismembered. Thus, the Besht taught his student the powerful effect of words that, at times, can only be perceived in higher realms
This means that letters (and their combination in words) can directly influence the world around us. A really good book on this topic that I would recommend to anyone with a basic knowledge of Kabbalah and wants to delve a little deeper is Sefer Yetzirah, see Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s commentary and translation: