Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Four Species - Suspicious

Talk about distractable! No sooner have I started my blog then I am calling attention to someone else. The holiday of Sukkot is coming and I had planned to put up a piece on the sukkah. Then I received the first truly novel interpretation of the arba minim, the "four species" of plants (etrog, palm branch, myrtle branch, and willow branch) we Jews are supposed to gather for Sukkot, that I've seen in years. The arba minim ritual is indeed one of the most mysterious and archly arcane (and I don't mean that pejoratively) practices in Judaism.

It comes from Rabbi Gershon Winkler, the leading advocate for understanding Judaism as an earth-based tradition and Jews as an aboriginal people. Rabbi Winkler writes:

"The four species of Sprouting Beings we employ during the rites
of Sukkot remind us of the gifts of balance (the etrog fruit,
which bears both the feminine and masculine qualities), shelter
(the palm branch), empowerment (the myrtle branches, as myrtle
endures long after it is uprooted or without water), and life
sustenance (the willow branches, which flourish only within
water's reach). Holding these qualities in our hands, we wave
them to the four winds and to the sky and to the earth, to create
a sacred space around us, above us, below us, within which we can
savor the gifts of yesterday by weaving a hedge around the moment,
enabling us thereby to step into the uncertainty of tomorrow
from a point of strength."

Rabbi Winkler takes as his departure point the Kabbalistic understanding that the etrog fruit signifies the universal feminine principle and the lulav bouquet the masculine principle, but then he offers us a new explanation for the four species, drawing from his own shamanistic perspective. I just want to add that the ceremony of the arba minim has a marked magical flavor. The myrtle branch has long been a favored material for wands among magical adepts and waving it to the six points Rabbi Winkler mentions has the feel of a theurgic act. Yet - and this is the strangest aspect of all - according to mainstream Jewish tradition doing this elaborate ritual is not supposed to make anything in particular happen. In that regard it is - how can I put it? - utterly and profoundly "anti-magical"! We wave the lulav because God has commanded we do it, and that's that. It's a head-scratcher. Those explanations offered by our Sages (the four species signify four kinds of Jews, or four aspects of the human body and perception) for this peculiar rite first appear long "after the fact," and almost never address on point why we have to wave these symbols. The ritual existed centuries before the explanations we know today did. Rabbi Winkler's explanation feels about as authentic as any I've heard, yet its taken some 2500 years for someone to say it out loud. Feels like there is something genuinely occult going on here, doesn't it? We'll have to return to that.

More on this topic can be found in the EJMMM under Four Species, Sex, and Sukkot.
By the way, Rabbi Winkler heads up the Walkingstick Foundation. Check it out.

Hag Sameiach/Happy festival


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