Saturday, May 30, 2009

Qabbalah and problems regarding spatial metaphors

The following is something I jotted up to a friend as an explanation about something I said in passing on the phone with him about spatial metaphors and the Kabbalah. I assume it'll expand and work its way into the Immanence of Myth. I also have more to say about the first point, some of which was inspired by an article of Mimi Lobell's that John Lobell sent to me recently. Perhaps some of you will find it useful or interesting, if not this'll serve as a reminder to myself. Any conversations that spin off of it are always welcome- questions and conversations in many ways are helping to direct the expansion of this project.

We constantly make our metaphors spatial, often when we are not actually referring to a spatial relation. This could even be the crux of the metaphor. For instance, we commonly say something like "I'm feeling pretty up" or "I'm feeling pretty down." There's a sense that we immediately understand from these metaphors that bears no relationship with reality. In other words, even though it shouldn't make sense, it makes perfect sense. This is the nature of a metaphor, we don't say "she ran like a deer," we say "she was a deer." There's a sense in which something that is logically untrue is true in another sense; the conjoining of these two or more ideas tells us something about its nature, even though the actual statement is false.

(This is an element of mythological thought that has caused no amount of trouble in religion, clearly, but that's not what I want to get at.)

The Qabbalah is in many ways a spatial as well as numerological metaphor created to deal with metaphysical ideas that could not possibly be dealt with in such subtlety in any other way. So a structure was built that allows us to relate these very abstract ideas with one another in a way that is very concrete and intuitive to us: a spatial "map," the tree of life.

Further, it was well recognized by priests and scholars alike at the point of the birth of Kabbalah (anywhere between the 4th and 12th century), that the divine could not exist separate from anything. That is to say, the divine cannot itself have qualities, for to have a quality is to acknowledge the absence of a quality, (if God is light then does darkness exist without God? How can anything exist outside of the absolute/infinite/etc.) Yet if it is without qualities, then how can it be said to exist at all? They worked around this issue with the tree, by saying that all of these seemingly distinct elements are essentially the result of an element outpouring to the next- they are not only linked but actually inseparable.

This "tree" is broken up into what are essentially layers of reality, called Sephiroth (סְפִירָה, "eminations"), from the tangible and material (Malkuth) to the completely meta-physical (Keter). These are connected by paths which correspond to the psychological states apparent in the transition from one of these layers to the next, and as such though there are dense correspondences associated with the Sephiroth, the associations for the paths are more narrative. This is most clearly seen in the association of the Major Arcana cards of the Tarot - or the archetypes they represent - with those paths. (FN The Major Arcana are distinct from the other cards, in that they represent archetypical personas that can also be seen as "journey states," such as the Fool and the Magus. There's a lot in the Book of Thoth on these two, not to mention the Golden Bough, Arthurian legend especially the legend of Parcival, or even Apocalypse Now for that matter.)

The usefulness and meaning of these "associations" is possibly best understood not only psychologically but also anthropologically. This quotation from Claude Levi-Strauss is strangely appropriate: "The customs of a community, taken as a whole,
always have a particular style and are reducible to systems... the number of systems is not unlimited and... in their games, dreams, or wild imaginings... human societies, like individuals, never create absolutely, but merely choose certain combinations from an ideal repetior... By making an inventory of all recorded customs, of all those imagined in myths or suggested in childrens and adult games, or
in the dreams of healthy or sick individuals or in psycho-pathological behavior, one could arrive at a sort of table, like that of the chemical elements, in which all actual or hypothetical customs would be grouped into families, so that one could see at a glance which customs a particular society had in fact adopted."

Though this is not the intention of the 'original' Kabbalah we see in the Sefer Yetzirah or Zohar, it is nevertheless what it evolved into, through the practices of Christian and Jewish mystics alike, taking on its penultimate form - in this regard - in the so-called magical orders of the Victorian age. And although much of the analysis and charts of associations produced by these groups may arguably be flawed or at the least culturally biased themselves, and though they are to some extent subjective in any case, it is nevertheless an analytical as well as creative tool too useful to be simply overlooked. These charts, and an explaination thereof, is best found in works like Israel Regardie's Garden of Pomegranates, Dion Fortune's Mystical Kabbalah, or a great deal of Aleister Crowley's work, most particularly the Book of Thoth, Magick In Theory and Practice, 777, and Book 4. (At the same time, all of these should be approached with some degree of skepticism.)

However, in bifurcating the divine, an inherent heirarchy is created within the tree of life so long as you think of that spatial metaphor as literal, that Keter is "above" Chesed or Netzach, that one "ascends" to "travel" from Malkuth to Yesod, etc. None of these are the case- they are metaphysical and psychological realities which have no spatial reality. They are only said to have that as a way of thinking of them, as otherwise we simply can't wrap our head around it. It's a small lie to avoid a larger one. The only truth to the tree of life is actually Ein Sof, the unmanifest which all of the sephiroth eminate from, and even then, in an oddly Hegellian realization, the rabbis later created the idea of Ein Sof Aur, the boundless possibility to pair against the unmanifest, almost Sunyata like-ness of Ein Sof. Sunyata is the Buddhist void which is also the ground of being, both are essentially the same concept, or in this case, category, since Sunyata and Ein Sof both represent the true
monad which simply cannot be conceived, nor thought of as anything other than a quality-less void containing in potentia all possible qualities. (The idea of Sunyata may be argued to contain both Ein Sof (the negative aspect) and Ein Sof Aur (the positive) within it, but this is irrelevant to the point.)

You can see in the duality of ideas such as Ein Sof and Ein Sof Aur that we are actually incapable of creating a truly monistic concept without at least implying a duality behind it, (and often a trinity behind that). It is difficult to say if this is simply a barrier of our own nervous system or an inherent quality of the universe beyond perception- when thinking of any single thing we must "frame" it within an area that is not that thing. It is an odd pre-requisite of thought. To think of a thing outside of which there exist nothing but that thing is mind-boggling, at best we think of it ever expanding, but what would it have to expand into? This is the ground that Kabbalah and other similar metaphysical systems attempt to strike at, through some of the conceptual tricks already discussed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Join My Cult audiobook iTunes & more

Join My Cult (with teeth)

The psychedelic prologue to Fallen Nation: Babylon Burning, Join My Cult! has been rewiring drug-addled brains for the past five years. Now, here, for the first time (because we never bothered to get around to it before), is an installment of the book in audio form.

Rather than post individual episodes on this blog, you can go here to get episodes as they run, or sign up via iTunes, Odeo or the reader of your choice:

Join My Cult! feedburner, episodes past and present.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Visionary Movie: A Manifesto

This essay caught my attention on a number of levels, but most particularly that of engaging with film as a mythic medium.

"Over the past forty years the dominant art form in America has shifted from the novel to the movie. Yet for the most part, the movie–and the popular movie, in particular–is not addressed with the same level of critical analysis as the novel. The purpose of this site is to remedy that lack.

As the Russian literary theorist Bakhtin noted, the novel is the youngest of all literary media, the only literary form, in fact, that has arisen within the context of literate civilization, for all the others–the epic, the lyric and the dramatic–are pre-literate in origin. If we take a moment to survey the evolution of Western literature, it becomes evident that each of its literary media have evolved through a three-phase cycle of formative, dominant and climactic stages. Pausing here to survey this overall evolution will give us a larger sense of perspective within which to characterize the place of cinema as a medium that has evolved out of the Western literary tradition."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Join My Cult! audiobook episode 1

Join My Cult (with teeth)

The psychedelic prologue to Fallen Nation: Babylon Burning, Join My Cult! has been rewiring drug-addled brains for the past five years. Now, here, for the first time (because we never bothered to get around to it before), is an installment of the book in audio form. LISTEN (mp3)
Want to read it instead? :
Join My Cult! eBook (PDF)

Add this to your iTunes or check out all the episodes as they run

Episode 2 is also now live. Check back here soon for more.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Medicine Show

A Mythical Tale Of Frontier Life Told In Words & Pictures

They who suffer tribulation and pain need suffer never more again!

Dr. Chak Votan's patented elixir combines a variety of robust, natural ingredients to provide a wonderful remedy. It cures most ills, including (but not limited to): Aches, Coughs, Constipation, Incontinence, Neurosis, Nervousness, Stammers, Eruptions, Night Terrors, Cannibalism, Somnambulism, and Complacency.

Accept no substitute. It's the Primordial Libation that effects proper cures where other remedies and treatments fail!

Interview with the author/illustrator about the process of creating a myth, Reality Hackers, working on Dragon Magazine & Magic The Gathering and the I Ching (

Pick up the early release edition.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Falcon, Falcon, Burning Bright

Joseph Matheny talks to Nick Thacher and Linda Miller about Falcon Press and why there appears to be two Falcon's selling virtually the same catalogs since the death of Dr. Hyatt.

Also in this episode:

A new In Your Ear with Psuke, and a special bonus track at the end: James Curcio presents the first installment of the Join My Cult audiobook, and releases Join My Cult as a Creative Commons PDF that you may download at Original Falcon. Also, as a side note, we were contacted after this show was recorded by an organization calling itself the New EII. Keep an eye open for an interview with them in the future.

Check it out!


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