Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Counting the Omer: Hod (Awe, Majesty, Submission)

Due to various work and home crises swamping me, I haven't had time this week for much mystical shit, but feel obligated to say something nonetheless. And this Sephira seems particularly obscure to me. In this fairly slapdash study I've tried to stick mostly to Jewish sources and not get sucked into the vast web of new age, occult, and other material that has grown out around the Kabbalah. But in trying to get some handle on Hod, I stumbled on this page, which despite its flaky-looking web desigm actually had a pretty coherent and understandable constructionist model of the Kabbalah. And I happened to note that the author had an email address at HP Labs! Turns out it's this guy, a researcher/occultist with impressive and very un-Jewish hair.

Anyway, according to him, Hod is identified with "consciousness of form". The whole left side of the tree of life is the "pillar of form", with "force" forming its dual on the other side. OK. As it happens, this weekend was the annual Bay Area Maker Faire, a scene which I have a great admiration for even if I'm pretty much a passive participant. What's a "maker"? Someone who can make ideas into physical form -- artists, engineers, hackers, hobbyist builders. I can't even begin to articulate how much I admire people who can do this. I am somewhat a maker myself, kind of -- writing software, or prose, is also a kind of making, and like the physical kind involves a certain degree of struggle between ideas and the constraints of the medium in which they have to be realized. But I rarely make physical objects, I just don't have the patience (hm, that was last week's topic), and am somewhat in awe of those who do.

What does this have to do with awe? The Maker Faire has art in a completely non-pretentious context, a festival rather than the hushed somber, and pseudo-sacred space of a museum. If there's a sense of religious awe, it's a noisy pagan sort of feeling as opposed to more churchy forms. Some works were certainly awe-inspiring, like the 70-foot hight Colossus interactive sculpture (above), or ArcAttack, the Tesla coil band:

Presumably Energy needs to adapt a Form before it can inspire Awe. Makers are those who can manage to do the necessary wrangling. They are the ones who are not overawed by awe, they can live with it, channel it, spread it around, in some cases even make a living from it.

Om another note, today happens to be Bob Dylan's 70th birthday, certainly one of the more important music makers of my generation, so here he is in an awe-full mood:

And here's the only song of his I can think of that celebrates a feat of engineering (actually a Woody Guthrie cover -- not very surprising, things like dams and skyscrapers were only objects of popular admiration up until the cold war/sixties reaction to modernism, but that's a whole other post):


scw said...

Apropos of "the vast web of new age, occult, and other material that has grown out around the Kabbalah," it is worth noting that the Cabala itself grew out of late antique Neoplatonism. It is a fairly late phenomenon, arising only in the 11th-13th centuries A.D., in Catalonia and the Languedoc, and is thus contemporaneous with the similar system of Bl. Raymond Lully.

Dame Frances Yates, in her essay "Ramon Lull and John Scotus Erigena" (J. Warnurg & Courtauld Inst., xxiii [1960]) traces the common origin of Cabalism and Lullism through Scotus Erigena to Pseudo-Dionysus:

"For the mysticism of the Cabala is a closely _parallel_ phenomenon to the Scotist mysticism. In the Hebrew Cabala, the sephiroth derive from the nameless 'en-soph', and the names of the sephiroth are Gloria, Sapientia, Veritas, Bonitas, Potestas, Virtus, Eternitas, Splendor, Fundamentum - a series in which many, indeed most, of the divine attributes are the same as those found in the Pseudo-Dionysian Names. There are other points in common between Scotism and Cabalism, and Duhem was so much struck by the coincidences between the Zohar and Erigena's doctrine that he supposed that the Cabalists who wrote it were familiar with the Scot's work. Though I would not presume to have an opinion on a matter which only Hebrew scholars can decide, I would point out that Cabalism and Lullism (which we now know to be a form of Scotism) are phenomena which arise in Spain at about the same time. The Zohar, as G. Scholem has shown, derived from the school of Cabalism at Gerona in Northern Catalonia, and was written about 1275 in Castile. It was in the year 1274 that Lull had the vision on Mount Randa in which the two primary figures of the Art, the 'A' figure and the 'T' figure, were divinely revealed to him. It is not without significance that at about the same time the Zohar, with its fervent exposition of the doctrine of the Sephiroth, was taking shape. ...We should ask, not so much whether Lull was influenced by the Cabala, but whether Cabalism and Lullism, with its Scotist basis, are not phenomena of a similar type, the one arising in the Jewish and the other in the Christian tradition, which both appear in Spain at about the same time, and which might, so to speak, have encouraged one another by engendering similar atmospheres, or perhaps by actively permeating one another.

"It is now certain... that the main source of Lull's ideas was neither Arabic nor Hebrew but Christian, namely the De divisione naturæ of John Scotus Erihena, whee is expounded a Christian philosophy strongly influenced by the Greek Fathers and by Pseudo-Dionysus..."

Your reference to "a researcher/occultist with impressive and very un-Jewish hair" reminds me that the Cabala was first popularized amongst non-Jews by a rich blond Italian Catholic - no, not Madonna, but Pico della Mirandola. There could scarcely be a better illustration of Marx's aphorism that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

What attracted the attention of non-Jewish scholars like Pico and Reuchlin to the Cabala was *precisely* its similarity to the Neoplatonism with which they were already quite familiar. Their mistake was to suppose that the Cabala was much more ancient than it really was, just as they mistakenly supposed the Corpus Hermeticum was. The 'family resemblance" led them to conclude that the Cabala and the Hermetica were ancestors of Neoplatonism, whereas in fact they were both its descendants.

Of course Neoplatonism is the fount and origin of all new-age, occult, and other similar material in western culture before the time of Mme. Blavatsky. Try as you may, you can't separate the Cabala from them.

mtraven said...

Well, I have no real interest in separating Kabbalah from any other tradition, since they are all pretty well cross-fertilized with each other. Not to mention that if (a big if) there is any element of universal truth to them (that is, if they aren't pure social constructions) then it is not surprising to find convergence between different systems, even if they have not been in contact with each other. Trying to trace it back to a single point of origin seems misguided to me, but I'm not really a scholar of such things. Scholarship of the sort you cite is interesting in the abstract, but pretty much irrelevant to the deployment of Kabbalah as a spiritual tool, which is the exercise underway here.

Scw said...

You wrote in your original post that you had "tried to stick to mostly Jewish sources..." Since Jewish authenticity seemed of some importance to you, I thought it might be of interest to you that the Cabala is not derived from ancient Judaism, but is rather a fairly late accretion to that faith, having its roots in the decadent paganism of the first few centuries A.D.; that "new age, occult, and other material" has not "grown out around the Kabbalah" so much as the Cabala has grown out of such material.

Now you say that its authenticity is not relevant to its use as a "spiritual tool." Much luck to you. Recall your eminent co-religionist Professor Lieberman's words when introducing that learned historian of the Cabala, Gershom Scholem, as a speaker at the Jewish theological seminary: "Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship."

mtraven said...

Oh it's interesting, but not immediately relevant, since at the moment I am more interested in the nonsense than the scholarship.

Delving into the scholarship and history of such things is one of those things that I would love to pursue if life and time were infinite. As it is, I have to budget my attention.

And my declaration that I wanted to limit myself to Jewish sources was not based on their greater authenticity (although I suppose it may have sounded that way) but simply as another way to narrow my focus.

In contrast to most historical periods, including those that generated various occult and secret traditions, we live in an age of information glut, and our problem (mine,anyway) is not gaining access to knowledge but putting limits on it. That's a topic for a separate post.