Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Next Gen Golem Builder

Recently I sat down for a meal with some friends and one of the other parents who is a teacher in a very orthodox school asked: “Do you teach your children about dinosaurs?” I paused, slightly shocked by the question and the answered very firmly. “But of course!”

You see, as this article’s sources show, there is a lot of discussion amongst the sages over the centuries about pre-Adamic human civilizations. The question about dinosaurs did get me thinking though about the question: “Do you teach your children metaphysics? If so, at what age?”

Well, as I have already mentioned a year ago… I am in the process of obfuscating my library to make it less obvious to my children that I have an interest in golem building, Sefer Yetzirah, metaphysics, mysticism and magic. When it comes to the law of unintended stakeholders, children may or may not be planned – but how much and how soon to expose them to metaphysics can be planned (at least to some extent).

Since in all the five years of studying Kabbalah and reporting progress on this blog I have had a grand total of three questions, I consider myself an expert at not being taken seriously. It's important to me that I don't get taken too seriously if at all... I’m hoping that my children will thus not take my interest in metaphysics seriously and pass it over. But in case they don’t, I have a plan B based on The Guide to the Perplexed by Maimonides.

As Maimonides wrote in the 12th century, there are a number of reasons for not teaching someone metaphysics before they are ready. Here is a link to the text translation, and the summary of the top few reasons:

  • First Reason--The subject itself is difficult, subtle and profound, "Far off and exceeding deep, who can find it out?" (Eccles. vii. 24).
  • Second Reason--The intelligence of man is at first insufficient; for he is not endowed with perfection at the beginning, but at first possesses perfection only in potentiĆ¢, not in fact. Thus it is said, "And man is born a wild ass" (Job xi. 12)
  • Third Reason.--The preparatory studies are of long duration, and man, in his natural desire to reach the goal, finds them frequently too wearisome, and does not wish to be troubled by them.
  • The Fourth Reason is taken from the physical constitution of man. It has been proved that moral conduct is a preparation for intellectual progress, and that only a man whose character is pure, calm and steadfast, can attain to intellectual perfection: that is, acquire correct conceptions.
  • Fifth Reason.--Man is disturbed in his intellectual occupation by the necessity of looking after the material wants of the body, especially if the necessity of providing for wife and children be superadded: much more so if he seeks superfluities in addition to his ordinary wants, for by custom and bad habits these become a powerful motive.

In the third reason, Maimonides lists various areas of study that a person should pursue:
“...Consequently he who wishes to attain to human perfection, must therefore first study Logic, next the various branches of Mathematics in their proper order, then Physics, and lastly Metaphysics... As regards the privileged few, "the remnant whom the Lord calls" (Joel iii. 5), they only attain the perfection at which they aim after due preparatory labour. The necessity of such a preparation and the need of such a training for the acquisition of real knowledge, has been plainly stated by King Solomon in the following words: "If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: and it is profitable to prepare for wisdom" (Eccles. x. 10); "Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end" (Prov. xix. 20).

There is still another urgent reason why the preliminary disciplines should be studied and understood. During the study many doubts present themselves, and the difficulties, or the objections raised against certain assertions, are soon understood, just as the demolition of a building is easier than its erection: while, on the other hand, it is impossible to prove an assertion, or to remove any doubts, without having recourse to several propositions taken from these preliminary studies. He who approaches metaphysical problems without proper preparation is like a person who journeys towards a certain place, and on the road falls into a deep pit, out of which he cannot rise, and he must perish there: if he had not gone forth, but had remained at home, it would have been better for him...”
My apologies for the lengthy quote, but I wanted to draw your attention to how seriously Maimonides takes the preparation for learning metaphysics. Although my children are too young to start formally learning Logic, Mathematics, and Physics – they are able to learn about the natural world: animals, plants, etc. This will hopefully inspire them and others to do more work for the conservation of the biosphere and gain a deeper connection to Nature.

Using this as a foundation - Plan B is to see how far they progress along Maimonides’ schedule. If and only if they complete the majority of the schedule, then I’ll sit down with them and start going through Sefer Yetzirah with a commentary… Until then the library remains hidden in plan sight.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Heh, Returning the Call

“Tet, Aleph, Aleph” he says immediately upon answering my call. “Oh, it’s you.”

“Yes, it’s me,” I reply somewhat sheepishly. “We need to talk.”

“So nu… talk already!”

“Uh,” I pause - caught off guard by his usual bluntness - “Listen Rabbi Bar-zel Arieh Tzion, what does it mean ‘to become a Ba’al Shem you must first become a Ba’al Teshuv-Heh’?”

“It always amazes me,” the Rabbi sighs “how small the steps are that you are taking…”

I cut him off before he goes into another rant about how slow I am to learn, or complaining about my irregular meditation practice, or even worse my lack of spiritual diary.

“Sorry Rabbi, I just want a quick answer.”

There is silence on the other end of the line. The silence drags on and for a moment I have visions of great Old Ones waiting patiently for the last few suns in the Universe to burn out and die. Finally I crack and the words spill out so fast that I have trouble keeping up with my own stream of consciousness.

“OK, so a I understand that a Ba’al Shem refers to a Master of Name. In other words someone who is able to use Divine names to alter the natural flow of things in this world. And that a Ba’al Teshuvah refers to a person who has returned to a life of religious observance having come from a lifestyle of little to no observance through ignorance or choice. However I have trouble with the term Ba’al as it implies mastery and who can master repentance completely?”

I pause for a deep breath. There is no sign that the Rabbi wants to jump for which I am both grateful and rather concerned about what he has prepared.

“But what does Teshuv-Heh mean? I understand that the word teshuvah is the same as teshuv with the letter Heh pronounced separately at the end. But there is no such word as Teshuv-Heh, it’s meaningless. It literally means to return the Heh and the point of the word teshuva is that means to return to the Divine source by means of religious observance. So what is the significance of returning the letter Heh in the general context of trying to turn one’s life around and return to a path that is striving to connect with the Divine?”

I gulp some more air, and hear the Rabbi clear his throat.

“Perhaps the Heh belongs to another word,” he says slowly and quietly. “A name.”

It takes awhile for the penny to drop.

“You mean the four letter name of G-d, right? Yud, Heh, Vav, and Heh.”


“OK. I understand that being a Ba’al Teshuvah, or as you call it a Ba’al Teshuv-Heh is about rectification of a Divine name…. and in order to become a Ba’al Shem… I need to be able to rectify the name. This is beginning to make sense as to why chapter one of Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) refers to the letters Yud, Heh, and Vav but not an additional Heh. Creation as described in the first chapter is incomplete.”

“You are getting there,” he says sounding bemused. “Slowly.”

“Thank you, I think that I am beginning to understand.”

“No you don’t,” he states firmly. “But you may understand it soon enough. And in case you’re wondering why the tune ‘He’s a bit of a fixer upper’ has been in your head this past week - it’s because the tune is referring to rectification of self in order to be of service. Get it? Teshuvah. Return to the Source.”

He hangs up. As usual I am left with more questions than answers, the main one being how comes he knows what songs have been in my head. Followed by, how do I get this tune out of my head...

Friday, 9 May 2014

Mechanics versus Living Interactions, and launching a new project

The recent bloggers conversation about Jupiter - in particular reading the updates by Andrew, Rose, and Moloch - made me realize how much my learning and practice has been focusing on the mechanics and metaphysics of creation through the lens of Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation). And not about the living interplay of forces and entities...

Let me try to illustrate it with an story... my first job was as a scientist, then moved on to computing (programming), and finally fell in to project management by mistake. What I realized after awhile as a project manager is that it's not about managing projects - rather it's about managing the people who work on the projects. That was quite a revelation and unfortunately one that only some project managers make.

You see I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how things work and why. Not everything mind you, that would drive even me crazy. But in certain subjects I don't just want to know a deep level, I have a strong drive to learn it inside and out. So I learned one aspect of science and computing at a deep level - at what I call the theoretical and mechanical levels. How the nuts and bolts fit together to make the whole work.

For the last five years or so I've been trying to learn Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) to understand this ancient book of Jewish metaphysics. Recently I have been focusing on chapters 1 (about the Sefitor) and 2 (about the division of the letters and how to use them in meditation).

However, whilst in the world of work where I have transitioned from learning about the internals of the systems to how they interact via people - I have yet to make the transition in the study of magic from the internals of the systems to the interactions of people and entities.

So when Rose and Moloch speak about their experiences of interacting with Jupiter, I realized just how much that contrasted to my post about the mechanics of using Jupiter's influence. It's like the difference to looking at an IT infrastructure projects from the point of view of servers, software, networks, etc. Compared with looking at how the system is used by people and how they interact via the systems.

I must admit that reading Josephine McCarthy's books has had a significant impact in helping transform my understanding of Kabbalah as a mechanical system to a living interplay of entities and forces. Thank you Josephine, I'll get there in the end.

So now what? Well, realization is one thing, acceptance is the next and then it's on to Plan - Do - Check - Act. Fortunately here is a plan that I made earlier but never got around to actualizing. So please consider this the official launch of Project TARDIS-AS.
Scope: To travel through the spiritual realms with Rabbi Avraham Abulafia.
Time: Unknown, current best guess 6-18 months.
Cost: Lots of time for meditation! Plus buying the remainder of the Abulafia books published by Amnon Gross.
Quality: The aim of this work is to travel in a Dr. Who style TARDIS. Except that it is made up of Hebrew letters, has 221 gates and is able to not only travel in "time and relative dimension in space (TARDIS)" but travel through the dimension(s) of spirit. Instead of taking Dr. Who along for the ride, my travelling companion of choice would be Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, the father of prophetic (also known as ecstatic) Kabbalah. The other co-pilots I'd love to have on the bridge of this TARDIS-AS would be Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and Rabbi Eliezer of Germiza.
Communication:  I'll send a couple of post-cards once I can build the gates and have made contact with Abulafia.
  1. Complete failure (to communicate with Rabbi Abraham Abulafia) 
  2. Lack of sufficient time to dedicate to the project
  3. Insanity. 
  4. Death. 
  5. Insanity followed by Death 
  6. It could take a really long time and I could get distracted by other shiny and curious projects

Thursday, 8 May 2014

It must be Juedi

Finally... the blogger conversations of old are coming back. It must be a Juedi (Thursday) because the discussion is about Jupiter and its influence.

In a review of a Pete Carroll book, Gordon wrote
That’s an astral Manhattan skyline in the background. Praying to Jupiter has always struck me as waving a little flag as the Queen goes by. This is a god of kings and Rothschilds. It is Jupiter that allows Wall Street criminals to avoid jail and have you foot the bill for their crimes. That’s what kings do. Few forms embody having different laws for the wealthy than the rest of us quite like Jupiter.’ - Gordon White, Runesoup
Jason responded to this with a blog post of his own in which he highlighted that "Jupiter is the god of Aristocrats, but is also the god of Justice". He emphasized working in the system rather than against it.

Rufus, from Head for the Red blog, pitched in to say that life is unfair, but as wizards we have the ability to game the system and turn it to our advantage... which is my way of saying: cheat :-)

Next came the response from Hermetic Lessons about how each planetary influence has a lighter and darker side. Is it fair to blame the influence of one planet for all the ills of the modern world?

Chrisopher Bradford, in his blog Heavens Within Earth, summed it up beautifully (in my opinion) that it's about power and not morality. "Power has no sentiment".

Mr Black, of Razor's Edge fame, added to the discussion by pointing out that if the bankers had gained Jupiter's favour - then this was proof that they had worked to acquire that favour.

Andrew B Watt argues in his post on Jovial nature that Jupiter is about rules and not cheats. "It takes a pretty deep level of discernment to figure out when we’re making house-rules up as we go along, and when we’re following the Jovial Code… and the key, perhaps, is Temperantia." (simplicity of life)

And finally (for now), Rose posted of her own personal interactions with Jupiter. Thank you Rose for teaching in such a moving and eloquent fashion.

EDIT: one more addition to the conversation came from Molcoh, Eye of the Sorcerer blog, about his experiences working with Jupiter. "Jupiter's role is one of expansion & growth" and he reminds the reader that they need to work to create avenues in which the wealth can grown. Plus the fact that Jupiter likes jokes and story telling. This for me was a very eye-opening insight.

So what can a Trainee Golem Builder add to the discussion that has already included the response I would have liked to add courtesy of Christopher and Jack? Well, here are a couple of quotes from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation and commentary of Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation), chapter 4 on how to use the seven double letters**to channel and transmit the influence of Jupiter in the world.
4:1 Kaplan commentary Hard and Soft
"...The seven Doubles would be used to climb the vertical lines of the Tree of life. When the initiate would use the letters to "run" and climb upward. he would use the hard sound, when he would "return" he would use the soft sound.
The Bahir states that the letters are the body of the script, and the vowels are its soul..."
4:3 Kaplan commentary on the Transpose of Grace is Ugliness
"...According to the Tikkuney Zohar, the harsh sound implies harsh judgment, while the soft sound implies lenient judgment.The good qualities would then be associated with the soft sound and the bad qualities with the hard sound. There are however some authorities who reverse this...."
4:7 to 14 Kaplan commentary
"...Most important are the relationships between the letters, days of the week, and planets and between the seven primary traits: Wisdom, Wealth, Seed, Life, Dominance, Peace and Grace. One can use the methods of Sefer Yetzirah, to attain or enhance any one of these by using the soft pronunciation of the seven Doubles. If one wishes to transmit the opposite, one uses the hard pronunciation..."
The world was made in such a way as to be unfair, broken and in need of fixing. Whether you choose to use the knowledge and skills available to you to help or not to repair the world and societies we live in... that's up to you. As Rabbi Chanina says (in Talmud: Berachot 33b) "Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except the fear of Heaven".

** The Hebrew alpha beita is divided up in to 3 mothers, 7 doubles, and 12 elementals