Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Gaming, Part 1

I've been struggling to write this post for some time. Actually I have been struggling to blog, full stop.

Anyway, let's talk about gaming. Computer gaming, board gaming, card gaming, role-play gaming, etc. I've done them all and been addicted to one or more of them for quite some time. Whilst I have learned a great many things about myself and others playing them - I also learned that gaming as an end in itself is not a valuable use of my time.

The Good:

Gaming is a useful sand-box, a contained space/time, in which to explore one's self. In particular I found that by playing a diverse range of characters of different races, genders, political outlooks, etc - I learned how to put myself as much as possible mentally in to someone else's shoes.

Another advantage is that it helps to build up the muscles of the imagination. Creating strange and unreal landscapes, peoples, and creatures has helped me to build and retain mental constructs for a time. As many writers have discovered, the characters that they imagine often take on a life of their own and as a role-player it can be fun to let one's character run wild for a time to see what and where to go.

Gaming also helps give a person a sense of achievement. Achieving goals and aspirations in a fictional setting such as the imagination, computer generated world, or within the dimensions of a board game. The danger here though is that many games, in particular multiplayer on-line games, hook people in to continuing to play long after it passes the point of not being healthy.

Last but not least I want to highlight that computer games have come a long way in terms of incorporating consequences of actions, often with a delay in the effects. This creates very engaging scenarios and story-lines.

The Bad:

Addiction. Money. Time. Social Isolation. Viewing the world as a game. Pursuing goals in an artificial reality that do not impact the physical world. Cheating.

Like most hobbies, gaming can be taken to an extreme and there does seem to be a hierarchy of "normal" amongst gamers. Last I checked the list went something like: computer gamers, cos-players, board gamers, card gamers,  role-players, live-action role-players, furries, and furries who have sex in their costumes.

The Magical:

I will elaborate more in a future post about what I have learned from gaming in terms of magic... but here are a few ideas from various computer games:
  1. Planescape:Torment - tried to answer a questions I have had since becoming an adult "What can change the nature of man?" I went on to study Chassidut and Kabbalah to answer this very question about myself.
  2. Dragon Age - the Golden City in the Fade became the Black city when blood mages entered the city. As Sefer Yetzira states, there is nothing higher than Oneg (joy) and nothing lower than Nega (plague). The mages used blood (the vessel of Nefesh) to open a gate (231 letter gate?) and the result was the Taint (plague!).
  3. Bastion - This game is literally about Tikkun Olam, rectifying a broken world.
  4. Bioshock: Infinity: This game explores alternate time-lines and travel between them. It's interesting as my studies seem to indicate that it is possible to do this...
  5. Neverwinter Nights: It's relatively easy to build a golem in a computer game... In this generate world though it take a little bit more time and training....
The list of computer games I've player and learned from is bigger than this small sample. But it's dwarfed by the list I have played and learned nothing from...


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Three Directions

In the Kaplan version of Sefer Yetzira 1:10 it states:
"Two: Breath from Breath
With it He engraved and carved
22 Foundation Letters
Three Mothers
Seven Doubles
and Twelve Elementals
And one Breath is from them"

The version that Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (Ramak) uses however states the following (my rough translation):
"Two: Breath from Breath,
With it He engraved and Carved
22 Foundation Letters
Three Mothers
Seven Doubles
and Twelve Elementals
He engraved and carved in/with them four Winds/Directions
East, West, North, South
And Breath is in each one from them"

The difference being the mention of the four directions or winds depending on how you translate it. Having read some of Josephine McCarthy's "Magic of the North Gate" recently, I decided to try an experiment of singing to the 4 winds.

So earlier in the year I sang to the East wind and made up a poem. Whilst there was more sunshine, there was not a great deal of warmth. The grass turned brown and the leaves on the trees remained small.

Then I sang to the South wind and made up a poem. Finally the warmth of summer came through. The grasses flourished and the streets were filled with lush green trees.

In the past week or so I began to sing to the North wind. There has been a fair bit of rain and the temperature has finally begun to drop after a really mild autumn that has lasted well in to November.

And the West wind? I have yet to sing to the West wind. But when I do, you'll remember me as I walk in fields of gold.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Blinkers

Constancy of world-views

Recently I met up with a friend I've not seen in eight years. This is unusual for me because... well I don't have many friends and it was interesting to see how our lives have diverged over the years and yet our viewpoints have remained largely the same. That got me thinking about confirmation bias...

So when this friend sent me a story by Isaac Asimov called the Last Question (PDF and audio), I tried hard to read it with as open a mind as possible. If you've not read it - I heartily recommend it but don't let that influence your decision...


Interviews with Leading Jewish Scholars of Kabbalah

After digesting that little gem, you might also like to watch this set of mini-clips. Same caveat regarding confirmation bias applies...


Thursday, 22 October 2015

There cannot be two skies!

Working with Letters
“...There's things I want, there's things I think I want
There's things I have, there's things I wanna have
They say the more you fly, the more you risk your life
Well I'm just looking, I'm not buying I'm just looking, keeps me smiling...”
 Stereophonics lyrics to “Just Looking”

I've just finished playing the Planescape:Torment (PS:T) computer game for the... well, I've lost track how many times I've played it. At the time, it was a ground-breaking game and there are numerous quotes from the characters which have a habit of lingering in my mind until I have learned their lessons.

Spiralling Through 

At the moment I'm in the process of studying chapter 2 of Sefer Yetzira again. This too I have lost track too of how many times I've tried to learn it.

In chapter 2, verse 2 (in the Kaplan edition) it states:
“Twenty-two Foundation letters: He engraved them, He carved them, He permuted them, He weighed them, He transformed them, And with them, He depicted all that was formed and all that would be formed” 
 As Rabbi Kaplan recommends in the Introduction, this verse (SY 2:2) should be read in the imperative. But what does it mean to engrave, carve, permute, weigh, and transform the twenty letters? Put simple, based on my current understanding, this involves:

Engrave – focus on each letter in turn, not necessarily the shape but the meaning. There are numerous books which are worth-while reading on the significance of each of the Hebrew letters.
Carve – focus on nothing outside of the letters. I normally do this using sound to carve away all extraneous thoughts and focus entirely on the letters (in combination with each vowel).
Permute – combine each letter with all the other letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet. This is done with each of the vowels. I believe that weighing should actually be done first...
Weigh – the way that I do this is combining each letter with the others but with only the base vowel of each letter. This gives a sense of how each letter relates to the others and can, I believe, give a deeper understanding of why the letters are in a specific order. Transform – this means gemmatria. There are numerous systems of gemmatria, some of them even work.

Gaming Quotes 

One of my favourite characters in PS:T is called Dak'kon. Here are some of his quotes and how I've applied them to the study of SY2:2...

“A divided mind is an unfocused mind.” Meditation is in my view focused thought. By focusing on each letter and not allowing other thoughts to dominate or intrude, my mind remains focused and undivided. This is the stage of engraving.

“There cannot be two skies!” In the fictional history of the game, Dak'kon comes from a race that fought off the shackels of slavery. One faction led by Gith sought to continue the genocidal war against their former owners. Zerthimon (whom Dak'kon follows) chose to not to pursue this war and a civil war ensued.
To focus only on the letters and nothing else, everything else must be removed in one's thoughts. There cannot be two skies, just each letter and that alone. This is the stage of carving.

“Balance in All Things.” To get the measure of each letter, it is necessary to weigh each one in one's thoughts. To ensure that no letters become one's primary focus to the exclusion of the others, it is necessary to stay balanced in all letters. This is the stage of weighing.

“All things, whether structure or flesh — their existence is defined by their knowing of themselves.” To know the essence of something, it is necessary to de-construct its name letter by letter. Cycling though each letter and vowel combination for one letter with all the other letters can give rise to great insights. This is the stage of permutation.

“Steel marks flesh, but flesh cannot mark steel.” Letter substitution allows, according to what limited amount of study I have done to date, allow for the transformation of one thing in to another. Flesh cannot mark steel, but legend has it that when Esau bit in to Jacob's neck, the latter's neck was transformed to marble. This is the stage of transformation.

Back to the Song 

I think that I want to game, but I really want to meditate. So why do I struggle to prioritise one other the other? I have plenty of books on Kabbalah and a basic knowledge of Hebrew to start studying them – what I wanna have is actually to have studied them already :-)

Friday, 16 October 2015

learning and livelihood


This is a brief blog post as it's posted from my phone....

Responding to a couple of posts on the issues with students today and whether it is possible or desirable to earn a livelihood from magical practices, here are my thoughts.

1. Wisdom

Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] 4:1 states "... Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): "From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation."..."

Every interaction is a learning opportunity. King David called someone his teacher for teaching him even a single letter. The thing to remember is to have space not occupied by ego to allow for new ideas and concepts. Hence "Kabbalah" meaning received tradition, but also IMO receptive to teaching.

Talmud Ta'anit 7a states "...R. Chanina remarked, "I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students"..."

If a person has set themselves up as a teacher and understand that they learn from their students via teaching them... then they are missing the point of the first quote. Sure, you're learning by teaching - but you can also learn from your students when not teaching.

2. Livelihood

As to the question if a person can make a living as an occult practitioner by being an author, tarot reader, astrologer, teacher, etc. The real question is my opinion should be rephrased as: CAN I MAKE A LIVING FOLLOWING MY PASSION?

Regardless of whether it is focused on occult path or bolstered by occult techniques... looking at the question in terms of a livelihood from one's passions hopefully forces a person to look at market conditions, budgets & forecasts, marketing, etc. All necessary to sustaining a strategic plan for one's livelihood.

OK, perhaps not as short a post as I would have liked.

One more thing if you are a teacher... please, please, please read Seth Godin's "The Dip". If you do not understand this simple teaching about why so ofew people become excellent in their chosen field - you will never succeed in being a successful teacher aside from the few exceptional students who will succeed in spite of you.




Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Da'at and Speech: Responses

Speech
On the blog: Osiris Risen, the author talks about praying out loud. It reminds me of an idea that a friend shared recently.

Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (Ramak) in his commentary on Sefer Yetzirah chapter 2 talks about how we take the physical letters written on the page, transform them in to sounds which are part physical and part spiritual (ruach), and are then internalized in the consciousness - entirely spiritual.

The breath balances between the conscious and the unconscious mind. Between the watery intuition of the gut via the lungs to the fiery (electrical) thoughts of the brain. Neshima, the Hebrew word for breath, is the same root as the word Neshama - a level of soul consciousness.

So what does this all mean? Simply that by praying out loud we transform physical in to spiritual through the power of our breath. By having kavannah, focused intent, we can imbue our words with the power of emotion and enliven them. So the next time you pray, don't sit in silence - speak. And if you are readying psalms, for goodness sake Sing!

Da'at
On the blog: Disrupt & Repair, the author talks about [NB] Da’ath and Gevurah in the Amidah. As it so happened, I have recently read some of Dovber Pinson's "Toward the Infinite" which has some interesting quotes on the topics of Chochmah, Binah, and Da'at.

pp50-52:
"...We have discussed chochmah and binah, the first two of the three intellectual capacities that make up the word ChaBaD. The third letter of the word ChaBaD stands for da'at. Traditionally da'at is translated as knowledge...
...What exactly is this knowledge?...
...While knowledge is commonly perceived to be a function of the intellect, associated with the mind, da'at in fact is, in a sense, an act of identification. Leda'at, or to know, means to be completely identified with that information. Da'at is the attachment of the mind to the idea it is contemplating. A thought becomes fully absorbed in da'at. There is no thorough and complete understanding until the thought is brought down into the state of da'at...
...The Torah uses the term da'at to connote the idea of attachment, connection, and union. The word da'at essentially means to internalize a thought or concept, and make an association with the idea. In da'at consciousness, the boundary that usually separates the knower from the known is eliminated...
...Eating from the tree of knowledge caused an identification with and attachment to evil. Prior to eating from the tree of knowledge, Adam and Even intellectually understood that good and evil existed. By eating from the tree, they internalized evil. From then on, evil ceased existing as an external objective reality and became an internal subjective interpretation. From then on mankind knew and identified with both good and evil. The good resides within us, and so does the potential to do evil..."


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

September update 2015

Changing Time

This is a short note to self as a reminder of a recent lesson by my teacher. The way to change the past is Teshuvah , Teffilah , and Tzedakah.

Teshuvah is often translated as repentance. But the word actually means 'return'. As in, the return to the correct path to align oneself in the service of the Divine. Teshuvah can change the past.

Tefillah means judging oneself, weighing up how to change in order to follow the correct path. Thinking about how to improve the relationships we have with our fellow humans and with the Divine. Tefillah can change the present.

Tzedakah is charity and charity given in the right way is giving someone hope. Tzedakah can change the future.

Monday, 7 September 2015

New Year, New Chapter

New Year

Next week it will be Rosh Hashanna, the Jewish New Year. Actually there are four New Years... Rosh Hashanna is for the anniversary of mankind achieving awareness of Divine consciousness; the other three new years are the boundaries in time for Kings, Festivals and of course Trees.

Anyway, rather than being a time for wild parties and celebrations - Rosh Hashanna is a time for taking in to account all the things that we have achieved or not achieved, all the people we have helped or harmed, and is generally a time for weighing up all our actions over the past year. It's a time for reconciliation between each person and their friends, family & community, as well as reorienting ourselves to aim towards reconnecting with the Divine.

Teshuva means return rather than repentance. Teshuv-heh means taking action to return the letter heh to the Divine four letter name. Being a partner in ongoing Creation of these realities.

If I have caused you any upset, insult, or harm - I sincerely apologise for my misdeeds. Please let me know how and I will endeavour to improve for the coming year onwards.

New Chapter

Every year I re-read Sefer Yetzira, the Book of Formation. Initially I read it in English from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's commentary and translation. Then I read the text in Hebrew and in the last couple of years I have moved on to reading and translating the commentary by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (RaMaK).

Whilst my skill as a translator still has a VERY long way to go before it's worth sharing much, here is a sample of a loose translation of Ramak's commentary on Chapter 2 Verse 2. [Words in square brackets are my additions to the text to ease reading] I have also added paragraph breaks to make it easier to read.


2: Three Mothers Emesh [Aleph-Mem-Shin], the offspring of the heavens are fire, the offspring of the earth is water, the offspring of the air is wind.

[Commentary starts]
I have not found this mishna [verse] in many books nor explained by the [previous] commentators. None the less we will go over it. Three Mothers Emesh. There is no doubt that they are called mothers to be as a source for all because they are three firsts [primaries]. In the [same] way that that the ten [Sefirot] conceal in general the twenty two [letters], so the three [Mothers] conceal the remaining [letters] which are nineteen, and they [three Mothers] are the sources to all that is emanated.

Or if you would like [to say], because fire, air, and water are not actually the three [Mothers] they - [the Mothers] are actually Keter [Crown root of the will], Chochmah [intuitive Wisdom], Binah [rational Understanding], rather [the Mothers] are a root [source] to them [their existence].  The essence of water is in Chesed [Kindness], the essence of air is in Tiferet [Harmony] and fire in Gevurah [Severity].

The offspring of the heavens are fire, the essence of the intent here [with regards to] firsts [primaries] is to separate the letters Emesh [Aleph-Mem-Shin] with the emanation of fire on [His] domain, since the essence of heavens if from the letter Shin which is from Binah [Understanding], this is why is states that the offspring of the heavens are fire.

And so The offspring of the earth is water, if so they are from Chochmah [intuitive Wisdom] that since Mem is water without any doubt. And we need [to say] that the existence of earth comes from water. And this is explained by those who know that if you boil water in a vessel [for] many days you end up with dust [earth].

The offspring of the air is wind, we need [to say] that the air is called air which rests quietly between the earth and fire [heavens] which is the foundation of the supernal [realms]. The offspring is from wind. If so, we find it's existence is rooted in Aleph which is Da'at [intimate Knowledge]. If so, we find the these three [Mothers] that are heavens and earth and what is between them is emanated from the letters Emesh without any doubt.

On this basis at length we learned the reason for the heavens offspring [being] fire as it is written [Psalms 104: 4] "..., burning fire His ministers...", because their existence is from fire. It's possible they stated offspring, [because] it's explained that they emanate their existence. 

So too the offspring of the earth is water, as we see coming out of the earth are water, rivers and canals. And the offspring of the air is wind, if you force out air resting in a bag it creates a powerful wind [really not sure about this last sentence's translation]. 

And so it is possible to explain the offspring of heaven, it's explained that to raise [grow] created [organisms] requires fire, like the the sun which gives light of the fire and so too the stars.  That is why our Sages of blessed memory explained the blessing on [the multi-wicked candle at the conclusion of Sabbath] "Blessed [is He who gives] light to the fire".

The offspring of the earth is water since water [provides an environment for the] germination of life specifically. The offspring of air is wind, since there are living things in the air who are sustained by the winds, and is known that no vacant space [devoid of life] between earth up to the heavens, and their offspring is from the wind. 

And this is possible in all three [elements] since all are in this and in this - their existence hangs together and it's all one thing. These [living things]  are [generated] in water and their offspring in water develop further in the water. [I believe this means that the element of water supports life that forms a chain of emanations or evolutions of forms]. So too with the heavens and with the winds as we have explained.

And we have explained the emanation of Emesh according to their order and it states Fire above which is in the [conceptual] domain of Bina [rational Understanding], Water below which is in the [conceptual] domain of Chochmah [intuitive Wisdom], Air in the conceptual domain of Da'at [intimate Knowledge] balances between them. [This is a quote from earlier in Sefer Yetzira] since water is not lost [does not intrude upon] fire and fire not on water. Air is the same to fire as it is to water. [Which is in the] secret of Da'at which is severity from one side and kindness from the other side and thus it balances between them. These three foundations are the vehicles for all [of] emanated [reality].

And if you say that the foundation earth is the fourth to them [then] why do we have three Mothers and no four foundations, I will answer that the three are the essential foundations. Since the foundation of earth is the offspring of water in combination with fire and air. Because the fire lights up by means of the air which boils the water and from it comes forth the earth which is a complex [combination of the other three elements].

And it does not have a portion of water, and a portion of fire, etc. as if it was combination of four foundations. Rather the intention is [to consider] the fourth foundation that comes out of the existence of the three [elements]. If so its existence is by means of the three. So too with the supernal attributes that are Emesh, the Malchut [receptive Kingship] is the fourth to the [other] three as is explained in the previous chapter. And if so Emesh [Aleph-Mem-Shin] are the Mothers to all that is emanated and to each division of creation which are heavens, earth and what is between them.

And more going over the topic of Fire above etc, this is what out Sages of blessed memory stated that the Shedim are masters of air and winds, they are between men of the earth and angelic entities of the heavens without any doubt [angels and shedim entities are not composed of as many of the elements and hence do not generally have corporeal form in the way that humans do]. It's possible to say that the reason for the combination of the foundations is due to their sources [roots]. Since it was fitting for water to be above [see division of water and firmaments in Genesis chapter 1] since Chochmah is above, and the fire is below since Bina is below.

Since existence is from the side of Gevurah and Binah and the forty two letter name and name Elohim which balances and it strictness [judgement]. So too in [the month of] Tishrei the world was created and this is [the month] of judgement. And we have seen that [the world could] not [be] sustained with[out] the participation of compassion. So the fire is the essence and the stronger [element], and that is [why] fire is above and water is below, and this is how it [creation] has arisen and is founded. 

[This cycle of creation is dominated by Gevurah in combination with Chesed as the former was not suitable for being the sole source of power for creation and neither was the latter. Only in combination could they sustain to form this cycle of creation with Gevurah dominant - hence why this cycle of human development has been shaped mostly by severity (war) and boundaries (various forms of rulership backed by force)]

And Air rules, the word rules needs to be given an attribute that it rules in two directions. And this is [that it] balances between them and the way the wording [uses] balances. And with this we finish this mishna [explanation of this verse].


[This is a loose translation of 2 pages from a commentary on SY that is on pp.57 - pp.158 of a book containing multiple commentaries in Hebrew.  Time to learn (more) Hebrew].

Friday, 31 July 2015

July 2015 update

Like the Digital Ambler, I've been offline for a bit and taken a break from most of my projects. It's been what I call a couple of "dry months" or simply the doldrums. Thankfully that is now starting to change. Rants, as Rose highlights, are one way to keep the conversation going - but I prefer (mostly) to focus on study, if not practice.

The one project that I have kept going is memorizing Chapter 1 of Sefer Yetzirah (again). There is something transformative about memorizing this text. I don't just recite it in Hebrew as a series of sounds, but need to think about what the next words are and why they are a meaningful continuation from the previous verses.

In other news I've received a copy of Sa'adiah Gaon's Arabic with Hebrew translation of his commentary to Sefer Yetzirah. This means that I now have he following commentaries to Sefer Yetzirah:

From the Big White Book:
  • Ra'avad
  • Ramban
  • Eliezer of Germizah
  • Sa'adiah Gaon 
  • Moshe Bottril
  • Chakmoni
  • Gra (Vilna Gaon)
  • Pri Yitzchak
Other Books:
  • Sagie Nahor (Isaac the Blind) [Read]
  • Ramban (chapter 1 only)
  • Ramak (Moshe Cordovero) [Read]
  • Sa'adiah Gaon (Arabic and Hebrew)
  • Abraham Abulafia (Gan Na'ul and Otzar Eden Ganuz)
In other news I have started to fill in the massive void in my knowledge of Jewish astrology. Starting with Glazerson's "Above the Zodiac". Next on that stack of books are Joel Dobin's books.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Expectations

Life has been very busy of late, apologies for the lack of updates. Here is a brief summary of the things that I have learned in the last month or so...

Relationship expectations - don't!
Recently a Rabbi and Rebbitzen came to the community to talk about relationships. The Rabbi gave a very interesting talk in which he said (in a nutshell) that putting expectations on other people in a relationship limits them. It limits their freedom, happiness, ability to express themselves, etc. If you agree to live within certain bounds and not set any expectations - you open the relationship up to the potential to thrive.

I gave this advice to a colleague who was struggling to support his daughter in her end of school studies. Instead of telling her "you must study", he said "I would love for you to succeed in your studies, but if you have your own ideas about other routes to success let me know and I will support you 100%. However I will no longer pay your mobile phone bill when you reach 25". That night she stayed up until 1am studying.

Book: magi & maggidim - some unexpected connections
'Magi and Maggidim: The Kabbalah in British Occultism 1860-1940' by Liz Greene is a really, really interesting book. Here is part of the blurb:
Current scholarship generally assumes that 'occultist' Kabbalah is a modern reinvention of older traditions,with little relationship to its Jewish roots. This assumption ignores the documented contributions of Jewish scholars and Kabbalists to the occultists' work, and there is little, if any, in-depth comparison of the ideas expressed by British occultists and the Jewish Kabbalistic literature of the medieval and early modern periods. And why was the Jewish Kabbalah was so compellingly attractive to non-Jewish occultists at a time of turbulent social and scientific change, when religious, political, and racial antisemitism constituted a normative attitude in many circles of British society? This book provides a new, exciting, and penetrating analysis of how and why the Jewish Kabbalah was adopted and integrated, rather than reinvented or recreated, by important figures in the British occult revival, and why it remains a dominant
I did not know, for example, that Mather's wife Mina Bergson came from a Chassidic family. This explains much. In fact, the book helped me fill in a lot of connections between occultists and their sources of inspiration and translations.

This book met my expectations

Mike Cohn - admitted he was wrong, in a good way
In the free lecture "Letting Go of Knowing: How Holding on to Your Views May be Holding You Back" the Agile guru Mike Cohn explains concepts such as Confirmation bias, Hindsight bias, and Intellectual Humility.

It was particularly refreshing hearing him describe how the Project Management community has moved on in its adoption to better ways of working. RO wrote a blog post recently about getting a job in tech industry in the USA. When I get time (tm) I will work on a similar post of my own. Finding the right job is quite a bit (IMO) about setting correctly - your and your potential employers expectations.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - worth watching
The TV adaptation of the book by Susanna Clarke available via BBC iPlayer has exceeded my expectations. Really enjoying it so far and I will be sad when it finishes, but one mini-series is about as much TV watching as I have managed in the past year or so.

Jupiter Ascending - no expectations, fun & full of symbolism
Having said that I have only had time to watch one TV mini-series, I have also managed to watch a couple of films. One of those was Jupiter Ascending. It's a very pretty film that I hope will one day grow in to a cult classic. There is a lot of symbolism in the film which I could write a whole blog post about (and may still do so). I had no expectations of this film and enjoyed it for what it was, a visually very impressive film that conceals more than it illuminates.

Time as a commodity - not meeting own expectations
I mist apologise about having complained too much that I have little in the way of spare time these days. Most of the beginning of the year was filled with catching up with things that spilled over from last year. Also, I have increased my daily study routine, which has left less time for things like blog updates.

Anyway, Jason's blog post on Strategic Sorcery about time being a commodity has helped to keep me sane in this time of growth, learning, and transformation.

A final note
One last thing... I really recommend the Tree of Life series by Blogos. Especially if you have some knowledge of biology and if you don't, it's still interesting to see how the Sa'adia Gaon's commentary is mapped out on to the molecular structure of the building blocks of life.

EDIT: One last, last thing. Seth Godin made a really good posting recently on The tragedy of small expectations (and the trap of false dreams). The important distinction that I understood from his post and my comment on expectations in a relationship is that is that expectation on self can be positive, expectations on others are sometimes less so.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

the letter Yud

Recently a friend asked me about whether the letter Yud was associated with coitios on not. I had a look in some of my versions of Sefer Yetzirah and found that whilst the Raivad links it to lust - it seems to be associated more with the kidneys which are related to Wisdom. See Avodah Zarah 14b "...Our father Abraham learned 400 chapter. Who taught him all this? His kidneys became like two springs from which there flowed to him wisdom and Torah..." You know that expression to trust your gut? Well, sometimes you need to listen to your kidneys (left and right).

---

Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero) comments in 5:5 about the letter Yud. He first of all explains how the material covered here is about connecting the upper realities to the lower realities (with respect to our perception of how everything is being emanated from the Source.  

For Yud he writes (below is my rough translation)...

“...Yud. Crown the letter Yud and bind to it a crown and form with it Virgo in the world, [the month of] Ellul in the year, left kidney in the nefesh [lowest level of the soul]..”

The big white book, as I like to call it, has on pp.140. In 5:2 the the same version as quoted in the Ramak. However, there are significant differences in the rest of the wording of chapter 5.

The Raivad's commentary on the left kidney is (what follows is my even poorer attempt at a translation)... 'that Virgo has a feminine form and a human face. She is lacking in complete knowledge and can be overpowered by lustful desires from the side of the left kidney. Therefore a person is weak in the heat of the month of Ellul and can bring about drought/dryness.

According to the bigwhite book, Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon has the same attribution of ' Crown the letter Yud and bind to it a crown and form with it Virgo in the world, Ellul in the year, left kidney in the nefesh'. He also mentions the order in which the letter Yud is to be combined with the other Simple/Elemental letters.

The same order is given in Sefer Chakmoni pp.177 of the big white book. He writes (rough translation) '...Crown the letter Yud and bind a crown to it, carve it the head of speech, and build first with Yud, Tet, Chaff, Zayin... and form with it the zodiac of Virgo in the world, the month of Ellul in the year, and left kidney as director in the nefesh...'

In HebrewBooks.org commentary on Sefer Yetzira by the GRA (Vilna Gaon), see page 36 5:8, it states (rough translation) '...Crown the letter Yud with Action, bind to it a crown, combine it this with that [i.e. permute with the other simple letters], form with it Virgo in the world, Ellul in the year, and left hand in the Nefesh male and female...'

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan uses the same version as the GRA (Vilna Gaon).

---

So what does the Yud represent? Well, most authorities link it to the left kidney, the month of Ellul, and the zodiac of Virgo. Kidneys are related to wisdom and some of the commentators explain what order to combine 12 the Simple/Elemental letters. 

There seems to be very little poiting to Yud being associated with coitios. There is mention of sexual relations in the list of 12 letters but this is linked to the letter Lamed in the GRA version.

---

EDIT: Adding some source of Sefer Yetzira translations from WMT books...

1. Translated by Isidor Kalisch [1877]
http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/sy/sy06.htm
-> correct translation
-> GRA version

2. W.W. Wescott, tr. [1887]
http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/yetzirah.htm
-> correct translation
-> But not sure which version he used

3. Work of the Chariot
http://www.workofthechariot.com/TextFiles/Translations-SY-Ezra.html
http://www.workofthechariot.com/TextFiles/Translations-SeferYetzirah.html
http://www.workofthechariot.com/TextFiles/Translations.html
-> correct translation
-> GRA version

4. Kalisch and Stenring translations
http://hermetic.com/heidrick/yetzirah.html
-> not correct...
-> Who is K.T. ? the notes in parenthesis are correct.
-> Site states... "Parenthetic notes by Bill Heidrick from the Kalisch and Stenring translations
http://www.billheidrick.com/works/sy.htm"
-> since the Kalisch version is correct, who introduced the incorrect assignment of coition...?!!??

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Refresh

Penelope Trunk's recent article about re-inventing yourself, as well as Frater Acher's article about the limited lifespan of our magical tools - made me think about the transience of identities, objects, and even beliefs.

Jason Miller then wrote an article about Extraction Magic. Here is a brief extract from his post:
"...Most things like elements and directions, or planetary hours and days, are IMO a correspondence that magicians use to do magic and not inherently true. For instance I do not think that the west is inherently more watery, of that Thursdays are inherently more Jupitarian than Saturdays.
Just like a scientist might take a cell and use enzymes and alcohol to extract the DNA, magicians use colors, directions, days, and hours to extract the force that we want to address in our magic..."
This got me think that in order to know what you are changing, whether your magical tools, identity, or view on correspondences... you need to know where you are coming from before you can figure out where you are moving to.

Which in turn reminded me of a conversation recently with a friend about Alan Brill's book: "Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding". In it he describes (copied from Amazon.com reviewer, my emphasis)...
A sturdy theological, categorical framework is borrowed from Race (1983) and Hick (1987), which broadly sets out four main positions of exclusivism, pluralism, inclusivism and universalism:
Exclusivism states that one's own community, tradition, and encounter with God compromise the one and only exclusive truth; all other claims on encountering God are a priori false.
Pluralism takes the opposite position, accepting that no one tradition can claim to possess the singular truth. The beliefs and practices of all groups are equally valid. It is widely taught among Western academics.
Inclusivism situates itself between these two extremes, where one acknowledges that many communities possess their own traditions and truths, but maintains the importance of one's comprehension as culminating, or subsuming other truths. One's own group possesses the truth; other religious groups contain parts of the truth.
Universalism proposes a universal monotheism; it was widely taught by medieval Jewish philosophers who postulated a common Neo-platonic or Aristotelian truth to all religions. (p.9)
Now take this model of 4 categories and see which your current belief system fits in to? Does your system believe that all magic is done via spirits exclusively? Do you think we all (or most) have a portion of a universal truth and are equally valid?

Whilst it might be argued that categorizing your magical belief system in to the 4 labels above is academic, I think it has merit purely on the basis as this reflects on how you interact with practitioners of other magical belief systems.

I struggled to come to any meaningful conclusion about this blog post. Perhaps just to open it up for discussion on:

Question: Do you look in to the paths of transmission that our traditions have taken to understand which giants shoulders you are standing on? If so, what surprises have you come across recently?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

M-Agile

Whilst there are a lot of interesting and educational conversations about magical practice on the Internet, this post is not likely to add to that...

Anyway, if you have or are working in the software world - you might be familiar with something called Agile. This is a philosophy based on 4 simple principles that is transforming the way that software is developed. Here is the Agile manifesto:

Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

Whilst I have read and re-read this manifesto in more books, articles, and blogs than I care to count... it never occurred to me to create one for the occult community until now. So here is version one of the magical agile manifesto (M-Agile):

Manifesto for Development of Magical Practitioners

We are uncovering better ways of developing
magical practitioners by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over magical societies and organizations
Working/Practical magic over comprehensive scholarship
Practitioner collaboration over teacher/student hierarchy
Responding to change over following a prescribed path

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Translation Mistakes, part 1

This post could have been titled "This is not a review: Future Tense by Rabbi J Sacks", but I'm only going to focus on one part of the book for now. That part is on pp.232-234 from the section "The Voice of Hope".

Below is the first of the sections that highlights what the implications are of mistranslation. Since I am reading through Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) and translating the commentary of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero for a second time, I am becoming painfully aware of just how big an impact mistranslation can have.

Here is the quote from Rabbi Sacks (warning: long!) answering the question about what the 4 distinctive messages that G-d seeks to say to the world via the Jewish people, its laws, life and history:

"...The Great Mistranslation

The first occurs at the formative moment in the life of Moses, when the prophet encounters God at the burning bush. God summons him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but Moses is reluctant. 'Who am I,' he asks, 'to be worthy of such a task?' God reassures him, and then Moses asks, 'Who are you? When the Israelites ask, who has sent you, what shall I say?' God replies in a cryptic three-word phrase, Ehyeh asher ehyeh (Exodus 3:14).
It is fascinating to see how Christian Bibles translate this clause. The King James Version reads it as 'I am that I am.' Recent translations are variants of the same idea. Here are some examples:

I am who I am.
I am what I am.
I am - that is who I am.

These are all mistranslations, and the error is ancient. In Greek, Ehyeh asher ehyeh becomes ego eimi ho on, and in Latin, ego sum qui sum: 'I am he who is.' Augustine in the Confessions writes: 'Because he is Is, that is to say, God is being itself, ipsum esse, in its most absolute and full sense.' Centuries later, Aquinas explains that it means God is 'true being, that is being that is eternal, immutable, simple, self sufficient, and the cause and principle of every creature'. And so it continued in German philosophy. God became Hegel's 'concrete universal', Schelling's 'transcendental ego', Gilson's 'God-is-Being' and Heidegger's 'onto-theology'.
The mistake of all these translations is obvious to the merest beginner in Hebrew. The phrase means, 'I will be what I will be.' The verb does not use the present tense. Elsewhere, the Bible does. In the Ten Commandments, for example, the first verse reads, 'I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.' Here the present tense ('I am') is used. But then, that verse does not speak of God's name. It speaks of his deeds. Here, however, Moses asks God for his name. God might have replied, as did the angel who wrestled with Jacob, with a rhetorical question, 'Why do you ask for my name?', implying that the very question is out of order. There are things that human beings cannot know, mysteries they cannot fathom, matters that transcend the reach of human understanding.
But that is not what God says. He does answer Moses' question, but enigmatically, in a phrase that needs decoding, God tells Moses to say to the Israelites, '"I will be" sent me to you. ' It is as if God had said, 'My name is the future tense. If you seek to understand me, first you will have to understand the nature and significance of the future tense.'
'I am that I am' is a translation that owes everything to the philosophical tradition of ancient Greece, and nothing to the thought of Ancient Israel. The God of pure being, first cause, prime mover, necessary existence, is the god of philosophers, not the God of the prophets.
What, then, is the meaning of 'I will be what I will be'? The name itself never recurs in the Hebrew Bible, but there is a later echo, in the great scene in which God appears to Moses on the mountain after the sin of the Golden Calf, in which he says, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion' (Exodus 33:19).
What this means is that God cannot be predicted or controlled. He cannot be confined to categories or known in advance. He is telling Moses, 'You cannot know how I will appear until I appear; how I will act until I act. My mercy, my compassion, my strategic interventions into history, cannot be controlled or foretold. I will be what, when and how I choose to be. I am the God of the radically unknown future, the God of surprises. You will know when you see me, but not before.'
To be sure, in one sense, the future is connected to the past. God keeps his promises. That is an essential element of Jewish faith. But this very fact reveals the difference between predictability on the one hand, and faithfulness on the other. Objects fall, gas expands, particles combine: these things are predictable. But people freely honour obligations that they have undertaken because they are faithful. That is the difference God never fails to teach Moses and the prophets. 
God's name tells us that he is not an entity knowable by philosophers or science, deducible from the past. God awaits us in the unknown and unknowable future. That is the first stage of the argument: the God of Israel is the God of the future tense..."

Kind of makes me wonder how many other mistranslations have had such a profound impact? In particular in translation of Kabbalistic literature...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

March 2015 round-up

This is another somewhat random post of topics that could have become larger posts, but I lack the time to develop them further...

Passing in to Legend

As I am sure that you must be aware Terry Pratchett passed away last week. Although I met him only briefly in passing, some of my friends knew him well and were all great fans. I particularly liked that for many years I could walk in to any number of airports and find one of his novels. It was nice to know that no matter what was happening in my personal world or the wider world - Discworld novels would accompany me from one adventure to the next.

As well as learning a lot about life, the universe and everything from his novels "Small gods" and "Good Omens"... I also really liked that he could make people genuinely care about golems.


Blew a Fuse

Last week whilst I had two major workings on the go and another one just completed I got ill rather suddenly. It's nothing serious but I spent 23 hours out of 48 asleep and have not done any meditation or magical work since. It felt as though I had used up all my mana pool so to speak and had nothing left. Any practitioner, even a petty dabbler like myself, needs to listen carefully to what their physical and subtle body is telling them. If it is says "stop!", better listen before you're made to stop.

Victoria Hannah

Whilst taking some time out to wonder the wider web, I came across this video Victoria Hanna- Aleph-bet (Hosha'ana). I'm an instant fan of her work for a number of reasons. First the video is about the Apelh-bet, but has plenty of symbolism from Sefer Yetzira. Elemental, numerical, vowel permutation, etc.

Secondly then there is this talk: "Victoria Hanna - I sleep and my heart is awake" she gave at the conference "Music and Brains: The Surprising Link". It's basically a lesson in vowel sounds from Sefer Yetzira and how they are made by the throat, lips, tongue, palate, and teeth. OK, if you need a simpler demonstration - check out her Victoria Hanna - Hebrew Vowels Demonstration.

Thirdly, if that is not enough... here is a jamming session that she did with Bobby McFerrin. In it she is quoting mishnas (verses) from Sefer Yetzira. Word for word she has it memorized! This is a lady who has a relationship with the Hebrew letters and vowels that I can only dream off.

Now I'm off to have a cold shower.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Shushan Funk

I forgot to include something light-hearted in my last post about Purim and Gemmatria. So please find below my favourite Purim song this year.


I'll return to posting about Merkavah mysticism, practice and Sefer Yetzira shortly. And remember folks, you need to be in a state of joy to access Divine inspiration.

Waiting for a Gemmatria

Sometimes it takes awhile for a Gemmatria to be clear. In the case copied from Ohr Somayach website below, it took approximately 2500 years.

On 1 October 1946, after 216 court sessions, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg delivered its verdicts sentencing the leaders of the Nazi party to death by hanging. The author of the following account, Kingsbury Smith of the International News Service, was chosen by lot to represent the American press at the execution of ten of those leaders.
NurembergGaol, Germany
16 October 1946
International News Service

…Julius Streicher made his melodramatic appearance at 2:12 a.m. While his manacles were being removed and his bare hands bound, this ugly, dwarfish little man, wearing a threadbare suit and a well-worn bluish shirt buttoned to the neck but without a tie (he was notorious during his days of power for his flashy dress), glanced at the three wooden scaffolds rising menacingly in front of him. Then he glanced around the room, his eyes resting momentarily upon the small group of witnesses. By this time, his hands were tied securely behind his back. Two guards, one on each arm, directed him to Number One gallows on the left of the entrance. He walked steadily the six feet to the first wooden step but his face was twitching.
As the guards stopped him at the bottom of the steps for identification formality he uttered his piercing scream: 'Heil Hitler!' The shriek sent a shiver down my back.
As its echo died away an American colonel standing by the steps said sharply, 'Ask the man his name.' In response to the interpreter's query Streicher shouted, 'You know my name well.'
The interpreter repeated his request and the condemned man yelled, 'Julius Streicher.'
As he reached the platform Streicher cried out, 'Now it goes to G-d.' He was pushed the last two steps to the mortal spot beneath the hangman's rope. The rope was being held back against a wooden rail by the hangman.
Streicher was swung suddenly to face the witnesses and glared at them. Suddenly he screamed, 'Purim Fest 1946.' [Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrated in the spring, commemorating the execution of Haman, ancient persecutor of the Jews described in the Old Testament]…
Streicher had been a Nazi since early in the movement’s history. He was the editor and publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper "Das Strummer." In May of 1924 Streicher wrote and published an article on Purim titled "Das Purimfest" (The Festival of Purim). In order to publish his vitriolic attack Streicher must have had a good deal of knowledge about Jewish thought and practice. However we can only speculate to what extent he was aware of the remarkable parallels between Haman and his own execution. However, they are indeed striking:
“And the king said to Esther the queen, ‘The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the capital, and the ten sons of Haman...Now whatever your petition, it shall be granted; whatever your request further, it shall be done.’
Then said Esther, ‘If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews that are in Shushan to do tomorrow also as this day, and let Haman's ten sons be hanged upon the gallows.’ ” (Esther 9:12-14)
If Haman’s ten sons had already been killed, how could they hanged?
Our Sages comment on the word “tomorrow" in Esther's request: "There is a tomorrow that is now, and a tomorrow which is later." (Tanchuma, Bo 13 and Rashi, Shemot 13:14).
In the Megilla, the names of Haman’s ten sons are written very large and in two columns. This is in distinct contrast to the style of the rest of the Megilla. The left-hand column contains the word v'et (and) ten times. According to our Sages the word v'et is used to denote replication. The inference is that another ten people were hanged in addition to Haman's ten sons.
If we examine the list of Haman's sons three letters are written smaller: the taf of Parshandata, the shin of Parmashta and the zayin of Vizata.
Those three letters together form taf-shin-zayin, the last three numbers of the Jewish year 5707, which corresponds to the secular year 1946, the year that those ten Nazi criminals were executed.
The Nuremberg trials were a military tribunal and thus the method of execution was usually by firing squad. The court, however, prescribed hanging. Esther’s request "Let Haman's ten sons be hanged" echoes down the ages,
Equally uncanny is that the date of the execution (October 16, 1946) fell on "Hoshana Rabba" (21 Tishrei), the day on which G-d seals the verdicts of Rosh Hashana for the coming year.
As the Megilla recounts, a decree that the king has sealed cannot be rescinded, and thus Achashverosh had to promulgate a second decree to allow the Jewish People to defend themselves. In other words, that first decree was never nullified.
Our Sages teach us that eventually the Jewish People will return to G-d either voluntarily, or if not, G-d will raise up another despot whose decrees will be “as severe as Haman” (Sanhedrin 97b).
When we look toward the place of our original encounter with Haman and see the rise of a fanatic whose rhetoric rivals our most vicious enemies, we should remember that history most often repeats itself for those who fail to learn its lessons.
© 1995-2015 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Here is the relevant bit of text from the megilla (scroll) read on Purim.


In case you were wondering what happened to the 11th person in this trial in 1946 - Hermann_Göring committed suicide. According to the Midrash - Haman's daughter also committed suicide. Whilst there are rumours that Goering was a transvestite, Wikipedia states:
Göring was known for his extravagant tastes and garish clothing. He had various special uniforms made for the many posts he held; his Reichsmarschall uniform included a jewel-encrusted baton. Hans-Ulrich Rudel, the top Stuka pilot of the war, recalled twice meeting Göring dressed in outlandish costumes: first, a medieval hunting costume, practicing archery with his doctor; and second, dressed in a red toga fastened with a golden clasp, smoking an unusually large pipe. Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano once noted Göring wearing a fur coat that looked like what "a high grade prostitute wears to the opera". He threw lavish housewarming parties each time a round of construction was completed at Carinhall, and changed costumes several times throughout the evenings.
Last but not least, Jacob's son Benjamin never bowed to Esau (since he had not yet been born). His descendant Saul failed to destroy the last of Amalek. Mordechai, also a descendant of Benjamin, vanquished Haman the descendant of Amalek in his lifetime. I just hope that the Benjamin of this generation got his message through about the lessons from history.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Feedback

Feedback Rant
Seems there's been some feedback to various blogs asking for magical techniques. I think that this is great! Bloggers getting constructive feedback, what more can you ask for?

People blog about magic in theory, to promote books & courses, magic in practice, its manifestations in the wider world, etc. Each blogger has their own reasons for blogging, but something that I have been noticing of late is that people leaving comments on blogs almost universally agree with the topic being blogged about.

This "yes men" culture as I call it is something I consider to be troubling. Perhaps I am being naive thinking that the blogosphere is a place for debate - but this request about for blogs to carry more magical practice information / experiences seems to have hit a nerve. I think that is a good thing as blogging is in my view trying to form a connections with the readers.

If the readers ask a question that causes friction - this can either be turned in to something positive... or shot down. From my simplistic view of things, this instance appears to have favoured the latter option.

Give the Readers what they Want
So as a blog author you can write whatever you want and that is exactly what drives the entries here at Golem Builder central. In truth, very little thought goes in to these updates - they are just a way for me to record and reference my thoughts, experiences, spiritual bookmarks.

I've not been personally been asked for any magic techniques and I don't know many. But in the interests of countering the trend of promoting a culture of "yes men" and turning down valuable feedback, here is a link to a technique for improving one's income.

https://mekubal.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/segulah-for-parnassa/

Just to explain a couple of things...
  1. Mekubal is the Hebrew word for what others might call a Kabbalist. They are wonder working Rabbis who are able to do things that a person might call magic**.
  2. A Segula according to wonkypedia is: "A segula (Hebrew: סגולה‎, pl. סגולות, segulot, "remedy" or "protection"[1]) is protective or benevolent charm or ritual in Kabbalistic and Talmudic tradition."
** there are a number of words in the Hebrew language for magic and magical practitioner. Just as there are numerous names for different types/species of angels. I generally do not define what magic, mysticism, etc mean because everyone comes with their own baggage in their understanding of these terms. There is actually no word in Hebrew for mysticism.

So anyway, I'll be trying this technique too - just to say whether or not it is a tried and tested technique. I have utmost respect for the blogger whose link was posted above and I believe that if you carry out the technique with faith, humility and do not mix it with other practices foreign to this system - then you will have success.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Lightning, meditation, turbulence

Lightning
On a recent trip abroad I had a rather curious experience after meditating. Due to the fact that it was a family trip, I only got two chances to meditate. However, after each session there was a fierce storm in the area. The second storm in particular lasted for longer than the locals told me was normal for that place. The lightning was striking just down the street and it really felt like there were lightning sprites dancing outside.

On the flight home we had almost 2 hours of turbulence. Initially I tried to shield the plane, but then on a whim decided to make friends with the air and lightning sprites. Although the turbulence lessened to the extent that the air crew were allowed to move around again - it was none the less a fairly bumpy ride all the way home. That'll show me for meditating in a new place without making some attempt to make friends / peace with the local entities manifesting as wind, rain, and lightning.

Meditation
The experience above and my advancement in ability to understand and put in to practice techniques in Hebrew Kabbalistic manuscripts & books has made me more aware of finding a teacher. This has been re-enforced having read "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales. In this book he describes how some people (and not others) have survived life threatening crisis.

Whilst the situations described in the book are (thankfully) very rare, they are of interest to me as a practitioner as I am aware of the changes that following a magical path can take. "You will be changed by it" was amongst some of the first advice I was given. The second piece of advice "When you open the door and can see them, they can see you too" is the advice that still keeps me awake at night.

Anyway, the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (who tragically died young) gave the following warning in his commentary and translation of Sefer Yetzira: (pp.124)
"...One of the early 10th century mystics, Hai Gaon, noted that many people who embarked on the mysteries were successful, but then met with an untimely death The higher the climb, the more dangerous the fall. 
A person would not attempt to climb a dangerous mountain without the proper training and equipment. Any novice who would attempt a climb without an experienced guide would be courting disaster. Climbing spiritual heights can be equally dangerous. One needs the proper training and mental equipment, as well as an experienced spiritual guide..."
Reading "Deep Survival" reminded me of this quote from Rabbi Kaplan. It made me keenly aware of my lack of teacher.

Turbulence
So in order to find a teacher and to advance my Hebrew Immersion project - I am taking a multi-pronged approach. This involves meditation, seeking a guide, integrating more Hebrew study in my (already packed) day, and creating a plan.

A plan is particularly useful for mapping out a 'path of dots'. It helps me figure out how to get from a known starting point to a theoretical next level. Although the plan is a nice fiction, it's a very useful tool for putting ideas in to a coherent order and testing whether it is achievable or not. Benjamin Franklin supposedly once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Planning a change is also an invitation to enter in to a state of crisis. To be an agent of change requires one to be changed too. I think that I whilst I knew that in theory, it's taken reading Deep Survival to understand just how paralyzing and insidious fear can be. Thankfully I picked up Rabbi Jonathan Sack's "Future Tense" book at just the right time to prevent the fear** from becoming overwhelming and instead channel it to more productive ends.

** fear of delving deeper in to letter combination meditations and the likely outcomes.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Forum for Discussion

Weddings

Many years ago I went to a friend's wedding, I knew that he and his fiancée where from different Christian backgrounds but I was not sure of the details. Anyway, he told me before the wedding that the families had argued about where to get married and in the end his family won.

So when I turned up to the wedding and saw the back rows of the church filled with smiling people, I turned to my friend, the groom, and commented about how happy the bride's family looked. "They are the choir", he replied.

Sure enough the people slightly further forward were standing stone-faced, glancing around with sour expressions and generally looking like they did not want to be in that church. When the groom's family turned up and together with his friends - we balanced out the bride's family numbers.

Just as I was sitting down in the pew, wondering how anyone could attempt to reach joyful communication with the Divine on furniture that was hurting my backside, in walks the vicar. The vicar, it turns out, is a woman. My smile from earlier returned and I looked over to see the mood of the bride's family has darkened further. Apparently the happy couple had chosen not to share this detail before the wedding.

When the vicar in her speech started talking about an orthodox Jewish wedding, how it is held under an open canopy (chuppah) to invite the wider community to participate and support the newly joined couple - well, I burst out laughing.

The rest of the wedding went well and in the end pretty much everyone had a good time.

Relationships

The reason I mention the above incident is that I was reminded about it by a recent story from a Rabbi. The story he tells is of a vicar doing his rounds in the village.

When the vicar comes to visit Greg, he discovers that Greg is upset about his missing bike. He suspects that it has been stolen and he is feeling down. The vicar assures him that during his Sunday sermon, he'll be sure to say the right thing to reunite Greg with his bike.

Sure enough when Sunday comes around the vicar talks about the Ten Commandments in his sermon. When he gets to the part about "Thou shalt not steal", he gives it his all and puts the fear of God in to his community.

Later that week the vicar is doing his rounds again and comes across Greg and his bike. Pleased at the result the vicar says: "Well, it looks like my sermon really had an effect."

"Uh," Greg replies. "Kind of of. You see vicar, when you got to the bit about 'Thou shalt not commit adultry'... I remembered where I'd left my bike."

That's Not What I Meant

Anyway, all of that is a preamble to say two things:

  1. Sometimes the things we say have unintended consequences. 
  2. There is a new forum in town: The Great Work Forum
Please consider item 1. when getting involved in point 2. Here endeth my sermon.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Three Simple Questions

As I was coming home on the train today - I had a moment of clarity and numerous pieces fell in to place.

For example, how a Maggid might manifest. How that may or may not be similar to HGA. The way in which my studies of Ma'aseh Bereishit (literally translated as "work of creation" - i.e. Sephirot and metaphysics as understand through the Hebrew letters) in the form of Sefer Yetzira (Book of Formation) had come full circle in to the study of Ma'aseh Merkavah (literally translated as "work of the chariot" - i.e. angels, entities, heavens and other realities) after I completed chapter 6 of Sefer Yetzira.

Anyway, the thoughts are still falling in to place. Sometimes they don't always click in to place instantly - especially when interrupted from another source. This time it was a brief call from my favourite teacher and critic Rabbi Bar-zel Arieh Tzion. He asks me three questions, that I'd like you to ask yourself as well:

  • Question 1: How much can you explain about Kabbalah without referring to the Sefirot or Tree of Life?
  • Question 2: Is the HGA (Holy Guardian Angel),  as stated by the Gaon of Vilna, a manifestation of the higher self? If so, is the level of refinement of the person directly proportional to the level of the HGA that they make contact with?
  • Question 3: Does doing magic make you feel special?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

How to Learn

Early Lessons

Growing up I had the good fortune to be taught two important lessons.

1. Always question. The previous chief Rabbi (Sacks) of the United Kingdom tells a story of how, when growing up, his mother did not ask him "what did you learn today?" - rather she asked him "what questions did you ask today?"

2. If you are not moving forwards, you're going backwards. This lesson may seem a bit harsh, but in today's fast moving world this can certainly feel painful at times. I was given the analogy of walking up an escalator that is going doing. You need a certain speed of walking to remain stationary, stop and life (the escalator) will naturally move you down. If you want to move up - it requires significant and continuous effort.

Sefer Yetzira Commentary

After over half a year of concerted effort - I have finally finished reading for the first time the commentary by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero on Sefer Yetzirah - the Book of Formation.

I say first time as I intend to start all over again in a couple of weeks. Why? Because the first hurdle was being able to understand the vocabulary. The next time I hope to understand the concepts better and who knows? Perhaps the third time through I'll actually have completed all the meditation exercises.

Learning to Learn

Why did it take so long to get through pages 57 - 178 of this book? Because my knowledge of Hebrew was (and still is largely) fairly basic. I found that studying it for 20-30 minutes each day on my daily commute worked best. It turns out that this is the Pomodoro technique.

You can learn more about Learning to Learn at this lecture series at Coursera. In fact, if you take nothing else away from this blog ever - just look in to this Coursera lecture series and it could well transform your life.

The diffuse and focused minds that the lecturere talks about in the first week are oscillating consciousness that Sefer Yetzira chapter 1, mishna 4 talks about: "Underrstand with Wisdom and be Wise with Understanding". This book was redacted in to it's various forms probably between 200-900 CE, so you can see that the ideas of different mental states go back a long way - much, much longer if you do your research properly.

Anyway, since you are reading this blog I hope that you are a life-long learner. If not, I encourage it strongly since it will keep you mentally healthy & balanced, improve your world outlook and who knows what opportunities it may open up?

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Endure, Resolutions, and Predictions

Resolutions

Normally I only make New year resolutions from June onwards, that way I reduce the time spent failing by half. This year however, I will not be making any resolutions at all. This was inspired by a recent talk about professional certification. The certifications fell broadly in to two camps: "Having" and "Being".

The former ("Having") focused on paying fees, sitting an exam and that was it. No prior experience required. The latter ("Being") focused on exam, fees, and critically demonstrating experience in the given field. In this instance it's project management and for me, if anyone bothers to get certification - it's generally as a hygiene factor and I pay a lot more attention when reviewing CVs to candidates who have demonstrated experience, i.e. in a state of being a great Project Manager. Rather than having accumulated knowledge with little or no experience to back it up.

I guess you can think of it in terms of the difference between an "armchair occultist" versus a practitioner with experience under her belt. Anyway, this lengthy rant is just to say.... 2015 for me will be a year of "being" for me rather than "having", continuing a theme that I started to built up last year.

Predictions

Like resolutions, I think these are a waste of time. Either they are too vague to be meaningful or people have a way of making world events squeeze in to part of the prediction or "what they really meant". The other predictions that bug me are the obvious ones like "the weather is going to get more severe in 2015", well duh!

Jacob in this week's reading of the Torah tries to tell his sons what will happen in the "End of Days". Rashi explains that Jacob loses his access to prophecy at this point and hence talks to his sons what will happen to them but not in the End of Days.

Endure

Da'akon in the game Planescape: Torment is a Githzerai follower of Zerthimon. He has some of the best line in any computer game that I have played. My favourite one that resonates with me right now is: "Endure. In enduring, grow strong."

The year 2014 has been one of transition to the next stage of my career, level of study & practice. This year will be (B"H) another year moving up a notch. The progress may at times seem a bit slow to me, but sometimes enduring is the sweetest victory of all.