Sunday, January 30, 2011

Angel Adjurations:Drawing Down Divine Power

In an earlier entry, where I outlined the practice of summoning angels to earth, I subtitled it, "It's almost like Magic." And indeed, depending on how you define "magic" (a notoriously difficult phenomenon to summarize), what I described had a magical flavor to it. Of course if you consult any rabbi or good Jewish source material, you will learn that Torah/Judaism/Tradition forbids a Jew to practice magic. And it is so. Yet one religion's magic is another's fele ("wonder"). And there are practices happening within, or at the boundaries of, Judaism that also make us wonder.

Now what I described last time really isn't "magical" in the narrower sense of the word. Its actually more "shamanistic" - fasting, self-isolation, repetitive chanting, purification, stress positions - rituals meant to trigger visions, spirit encounter, or what anthropologists call "shamanic flight." Both James Davila and Gershon Winkler have noted that there is an archly shamanic quality to the Hekhalot writings, and I agree.

The challenge of drawing a line between ecstatic religion and "magic" in this kind of literature, however, is particularly acute. For we discover that there are other Hebrew documents, very much akin works like Hechalot Rabbati, which seem to take us toward...well, I'm not sure what. Take for example, this text - Charba de Moshe, The Sword of Moses.

This early medieval text was translated by Moses Gaster at the turn of the last century. Part of Chapter One reads like this (I've updated a little of Gaster's wording, but I've left his censoring of the divine/angelic names as he wanted it):

...And when you conjure him he will attach himself to you, and cause the other five Chiefs and their Chariots, and the lords that stand under them, to attach themselves to you just as they were ordered to attach themselves to Moses, son of Amram, and to attach to him all the lords that stand under them; and they will not tarry in their obeisance, and will not withhold from giving authority to the man who utters the conjuration over this "Sword," its mysteries and hidden powers, its glory and might, and they will not refuse to do it, as it is the command of God X [ABDUHU] saying: "You shall not refuse to obey a mortal who conjures you, nor should you be different to him from what you were to Moses, son of Amram, when you were commanded to do so, for he is conjuring you with My Ineffable names, and you render honour to My name and not to him. If you should refuse I will burn you, for you have not honoured Me."
Each of these angels had communicated to him (Moses) a propitious thing for the proper time. These things (words) are all words of the living God and King of the Universe, and they said to him: --
"If you wish to use this 'Sword' and to transmit it to the following generations, (then know) that the man who decides to use it must first free himself three days previously from accidental pollution and from everything unclean, eat and drink once every evening, and must eat the bread from a pure man or wash his hands first in salt (?), and drink only water; and no one is to know that he intends using this 'Sword,' as therein are the mysteries of the Universe, and they are practised only in secret, and are not communicated but to the chaste and pure. On the first day when you retire from (the world) bathe once and no more, and pray three times daily, and after each prayer recite the following Blessing: -- "Blessed art thou [QUSIM], O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who opens the gates of the East and separates the windows of the firmament of the Orient, and gives light to the whole world and its inhabitants, with the multitude of His mercies, with His mysteries and secrets, and teaches Your people Israel Your secrets and mysteries, and has revealed unto them the "Sword" used by the world; and You say unto them: "If anyone is desirous of using this 'Sword,' by which every wish is fulfilled and every secret revealed, and every miracle, marvel, and prodigy are performed, then speak to Me in the following manner, read before Me this and that, and conjure in such and such a wise, and I will instantly be prevailed upon and be well disposed towards you, and I will give you authority over this Sword, by which to fulfill all that you desire...

You can see here a number of elements that have appeared in Midrash and Hechalot texts - Moses having power over angels (the Midrash finds Biblical proof for this in Ps. 68:18, which is understood to refer to Moses, "You ascended on high, having taken captives"), preparatory rituals of purification, and an adjuration of summoning. But there are some subtle and intriguing differences. First is the explicit claim that Moses' authority over the angels is usable by all Israel. Then we have two more "magical" aspects: he must purify with salt or some substance other than water (that's one step beyond Rabbinic ideas of purification) and that authority over angels can be used to "fulfill all that you desire" (that's a lot of authority, and it seems to offer the adept the power to do things that extend beyond the purely "religious")!

Yet, for all that, this is still not grossly magical, at least as magic was conceived in the ancient/medieval world. There is no real materia magica ("Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg and owlet's wing, For a charm of powerful trouble..."), success still depends on prior authority being given by God, and on being a "pure and chaste" child of Israel. In fact, in a later chapter the Sword of Moses pointedly remarks that:

...in truth, this is the ["Sword of Moses"] with which he [Moses] accomplished his miracles and mighty deeds, and destroyed all kind of witchcraft; it had been revealed to Moses in the bush, when the great and glorious Name was delivered to him. Take care of it and it will take care of thee.

In other words, this may look a lot like magic or witchcraft, but it is in fact the opposite, it is the very mechanism by which Moses performed the feats and wonders ascribed to him in the Torah - this is really a prophetic power (and therefore the prophets were magicians of a sort) and used for good and not for evil, so there! This disclaimer becomes a feature of other Hebrew works of ritual power - a reassurance that the reader may think it looks like magic, trust me, it's Torah.

To learn more, look up the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism available at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050/sr=1-1/qid=1159997117/ref=sr_1_1/002-7116669-7231211?ie=UTF8&s=books
[Illustration: "The Sabbath" by E.M. Lilien, appearing in Die Bucher der Bibel]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there an associated text, that goes along with the Sword of Moses containing the names that were censored? If not, where could I find them?

7:43 PM  
Blogger Geoff said...

Yes there is with the names not censored at all its on Amazon and the title is called the sword of Moses conjuration

9:17 AM  

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