Monday, September 10, 2007

Shem ha-Kotev: Jewish Automatic Writing

[A scribe from Die Bucher der Bibel, illustration by Ephraim Moses Lilien]

In Jewish mysticism we find a pneumatic phenomenon parallel to xenoglossia; that of “automatic writing,” composing while in an altered state of consciousness.

This phenomenon is sometimes thought to be inspired by the incident in Daniel of the “writing on the wall,” though the Biblical account doesn't actually describe a spiritual possession.

Moses DeLeon is a notable example under the influence of this, as there are indications he wrote parts of the Zohar while in an altered state of consciousness [1]. Medieval mystics describe it as the shem ha-kotev, “the writing Name.” This divine name can be invoked, sometimes through the angels Gabriel and Michael, to trigger the trance-induced writing (Sha’arei Tzedek). Sources mention the practice, but do not record the actual “name,” though Taitazak provides some details:

The secret of this supernal writing is the secret of the descent of the power of God in His glory…the secret included in this writing should be believed by everyone…for it is prophecy and will come true fully…you shall understand the secret of the “writing name,” guided by an angel, whenever you wish it...It should begin by two days of fasting, and on the third day should be performed. The person doing it should not drink any wine and he should eat on that day only after performing the practice. Before that he should eat three eggs, to give him the power for the Names. It should be performed in the morning and after midnight…[2]

Thise description of ritual preparation is almost stereotypical of Jewish rituals of power, with parallel features (fasting a number of days, but especially the eggs) that appear in Hekhalot texts and in magical texts as well.

Zal g'mor /Go forth and learn - more can be found in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

1. Jacob, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, pp. 138-139.
2. Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, pp. 177-180.


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