Saturday, January 01, 2011

Summoning Angels: It's almost Magic

As we have seen, Moses is the archetypal adept who, through the combined power of his righteousness and knowledge, ascends to heaven. In Apocalyptic literature, this ascent is a phenomenon that a number of Biblical worthies experienced: Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Baruch, and others. In rabbinic literature, this same sort of experience was available to the great Sages: Joshua ben Levi (whom we quoted in a prior entry) and Akiba ben Joseph are classic examples.

The Bible also gives us accounts of earthly encounters with angelic beings. Aside from the more familiar stories (Abraham, Jacob, and Joshua), there is the extraordinary experiences of the prophet Zechariah ben Berekhiah, who describes extended conversations he had with an angelic medium who interprets his visions (Zech. 1-8). The much neglected book of Zechariah contains perhaps the most angel-rich material in the TaNaKH.

In the Talmud, Ishmael ben Elisha ha-Kohen gives us a most vivid and startling account of his encounter with the numinous entity Akatriel-YAH while in the Temple (Ber. 7a).

Another type of Jewish literature, however, does not limit the possibility of angelic encounter to Jewish religious geniuses of other times and places. Much of the Hechalot ("Palaces") literature provides us with the how-to of summoning angels to our plane of existence. So what is entailed in bringing an angel to you? Here's an example taken from the text Hekhalot Rabbati:

"The one who binds himself by the Sar ha-Torah ("the Prince [Angel] of the Torah") should wash his clothes and his garments, and make a strict immersion. He should enter and sit for twelve days in a room or attic. He should not go out or come in. He should not eat or drink except in the evening. When he eats his bread, it should be bread from [his] clean hands. He should drink water, but not taste any kind of vegetable. He should fix this Midrash of the Sar ha-Torah in prayer three times a day, after the prayer [the Amidah prayers] that he should pray from its beginning to its end. And after that he should sit and repeat it repetitively all twelve days, days of his fasting, from morning to night, and he should not be silent. He should stand on his feet and adjure the servants by their king, and he should call twelve times to each prince. And that he should adjure them by the seal, each one of them (Translation from Lesses, Ritual Practices to Gain Power, p. 193-195).

This is a tantalizing glimpse of a practice, but, as you can see it is far from complete. Certain key bits of data, such as how makes the requisite angelic seal, are left unspecified. This text implies that such techniques may be employed by any worthy adept, but does not fully explain them. Presumably, when an occult master is teaching this text, he will orally fill in the details for his disciple. Thus the written works are a fingerpost pointing the experience while keeping it just out of reach for the average reader - a true esoteric text.

Now, we modern readers can recover many of these elements in more detail by consulting and comparing other works in the Hechalot corpus: adjuration spells, the exact number of ritual immersions, postures one must maintain, suitable locations for drawing down the angel, etc., but I can't give you an exact and complete formula, from beginning to end, for adjuring the Sar ha-Torah. So, the modern adept must approach it with a spirit of experimentation by studying the various texts and weaving together a ritual from disparate sources. Of course, being a "worthy" adept is the key for all of this to work. Adjuring a numinous servant of God is a fraught affair, and one must possess the merit necessary to stand before such a pure and potent entity. So you've been warned: be careful out there.

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

Correction: Last week in my entry on zombies I credited George Romero with establishing the "zombie rule" that the undead fall only to headshots. In fact, while reviewing the Chthulu mythos with my teenage son, I have learned it was H.P. Lovecraft who revealed this technique to the world in his charming and idyllic short story, "Screams of the Dead."

(Illustration: Joseph encounters an angel, a detail from the medieval "Golden Haggadah," folio 5. A complete online display of the Golden Haggadah appears at - www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/ttp/hagadah/accessible/introduction.html )


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