Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Habdalah of Rabbi Akiba, page 3

I continue my translation [entries on 5-25-07 and 6-6-07 The Havdalah of Rabbi Akiba, pg. 2: Angelic Names,... and Havdalah de-Rabbi Akiva: Jewish Sorcery ] of the Hebrew magical manual, Havdalah de Rabbi Akiva. Having completed the ritual recitation of Ps. 91 on page 2, a new mishna begins on page 3,

[Sentient Alef, by the artist David Singer]

consisting almost entirely of a string of names of power.

The centerpiece of this invocation is the recitation of the Hebrew alef-bet, first in regular order, then in reverse (the pattern of the atba”sh code, one of oldest forms of encryption known). The belief that reversals and permutations of the alef-bet have constructive power is first articulated in Sefer Yetzirah 2:4-5.

The typesetter has grouped the letters in clusters, suggesting that this is the necessary pattern for recitation. The purpose of this may be to create a meditative state in the adept performing the ritual, or it may have purely magical effect.

Page 3
[Mishna Bet] You holy signs[1] Ad’tae”l, the Light of Your Presence.
And before Him – Yatzkhe”l and Palie”l, P’lai”m, Pel”e, Nifl”a, Magli”a, P’lao”t,[2] Z’vu”d, the pruner Akh’s’kas,[3] Marmaraot surely comes Sabaot,[4] T’rami,[5] the Host of Yisrae”l Par’pare”l, Anaei”l,[6] Y’hudie”l Y’h”u[7] Nakh’v’die”l

אבגדהוזחטיכך[8] למם נן סע פף צץ קר שת תשרקצץ[9] פע סן נם מלך כיט חז והד גבא

By means of the angels of Adonai is a bright leopard burst.[10] I adjure[11] and I surely bind and I surely cut off, I surely forswear[12] against a[ny] spirit[13] or demon [Page 4] or shade[14] or spells or bindings or charms…


[1] The psalm now recited, this begins an incantation. This same opening phrase is used in a Geniza Fragment, T-S K 1.91, in a spell to combat impotence (As it appears in Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, pp. 176-178). In the Geniza passage, “holy signs” refers to magical characters. Here the phrase apparently refers to the alef-bet itself, which is suggestive of how the author viewed the theurgic nature of the Hebrew language.
[2] The previous six names are a series of variant forms of the word “wonder.” The purpose of this permutation-configuration is not self-evident. This last name appears on an amulet as “Pelaot the angel.” Magic Spells and Formulae, p. 106.
[3] Literally, “I will scour.” Perhaps it is a name, a corruption of “Abraxas,” a popular angel in amulet texts.
[4] This is likely either a euphemism or corruption of tsevaot.
[5] Variant form of this name appears on an amulet
[6] This name appears on amulet Horvat Kanaf, Qasrin No. 3163, as transcribed in Amulets and Magic Bowls, p. 50.
[7] Most likely variant of the Tetragrammaton, this is a form popularly appearing on many amulets. The writer may well have regarded it as yet another angelic name. It may also be an acronym for yishmar’hu ha-Shem v’khuihu.
[8] It is unclear whether these letters are simply recited in a cluster or meant to be pronounced as one long word – a daunting task given this first grouping.
[9] The pattern breaks from absolute reversal here, having the tzadi come before the tzadi sofit, just as it does in the normal order. Perhaps it is simply a typesetter’s error, but assuming it is deliberate, it provides us a clue pointing to the idea that these clusters are to be pronounced as words, because a full reversal would have resulted in the next cluster of two letters beginning with the tzadi sofit, a violation of Hebrew word morphology.
[10] This speculative translation is based on the premise that the first word, which has no obvious meaning, is actually an abbreviation. A “bright leopard” may refer to a shape-shifting demon that takes on animal form (See Amulets and Magic Bowls, pp. 200, 201) . If someone else has a better translation of bama n’fatz tzaf n’mar, I welcome it.
[11] See Amulets and Magic Bowls, pp. 164 - 65.
[12] Derived from “vow.” It can also mean “roll down/pour out,” but as phrases of power, oaths are a critical element in adjuration rhetoric.
[13] Most likely meaning a ghost, dybbuk, or poltergeist.
[14] A kind of night specter, Magic Spells and Formulae pp. 72-73

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Women Jewish Mystics

A reader writes:
Stumbled across your blog while doing some digging into what little history I could find regarding mystic Jewish women (the middle ages seems replete with Christian women mystics, so I wondered where the Jewish women were...) Anyway, kick-a** d'var torah! [she is referring to my entry entitled

[Cover illustration of Judaism personified as a woman by E. M. Lilien]

Occult Bible III] Thanks for sharing this! Would like your thoughts on if there's any value to this simple, kinesthetic deeper dive: why did the book [she means the Torah] begin with beit and not aleph? The unspoken breath had to be sealed and thus given form by Divine lips for creation to begin.

Intriguing insight on God's breath. I have partially addressed something along these lines in an article I wrote on the role of silence in Jewish metaphysics and prayer entitled "The Sanctuary of the Heart." It just got republished this summer in an anthology entitled The Inner Journey: The Jewish View.

But rather than go there (maybe I'll develop what I've found more toward the theme of "God's lips/unspoken breath" in a future entry), let me tell you that one place to start on questions of medieval Jewish women mystics would be Jeffrey Chajes' outstanding article, "Women Leading Women [and Attentive Men]: Pietistic Models of Jewish Women." Chajes gives us accounts of Jewish women sorcerers (Sonadora), mediums (the daughter of Raphael Anav) and visionaries (Rachel Amberlin ha-Ashkenazit). Also look at the female authors of "women's prayers" known as thkines.

You can also find entries and primary source citations concerning women and mysticism in my book, the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Anyway, I'm on a tear in the field of Hebrew magic for the moment, so I will likely post one or two more entries on that before I return to alef-bet/silence-speech.

Thanks for the interest!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Crack My Cup and Cut Me Up: Jewish Curses

Cross my heart and hope to die! It is a childish phrase, so familiar to us all. But a moment’s reflection reveals it is anything but childlike. Rather, it is quite a potent statement.

Last year the Dallas Morning News gave us a delightful article on the contemporary fate of curse words, but there is another form of religious maledictions they didn’t discuss. It is what scholars call a “conditional self-curse.” It means, in effect, if I break this promise, may I be killed! The above example is a profoundly Christian version of that concept, for the speaker is invoking the cross, which is to say, the God of the cross, to witness the promise and enforce the curse.

But conditional self-curses predate Christianity. Multiple forms of conditional self-curses appear in the Hebrew Bible. Sometimes it is just expressed as a spoken oath, along the lines of “May thus and more happen to me if…”(I Samuel 19:2; 20:10). But if you're Biblical figure who wants to be really serious about your promise, then what you do is break or destroy something, often a living thing, to ritually act out what should happen to you if you fail to live up to your word (Jer. 34:18-20).

That’s exactly the kind of promise God makes to Abraham in the episode known as the "covenant between the pieces," or more viscerally, the “covenant of the chunks” (Gen. 15). God commands Abraham to cut up several animals and then arrange them in a row on the ground with a path between the severed parts. God then appears as a flame (think burning bush) that passes between the chunks. This is meant to be a shocking moment - but not for the reason that seems gruesomely obvious to us. God is, in effect, saying “let Me be cut up if I don’t keep My oath to you, Abraham!” It is hard to imagine exactly how God can curse Himself, but if the theology is problematic, the symbolism is clear and powerful: God’s commitment to fulfilling the promises made to Abraham is absolute, grounded in God’s very being.

Though all this seem very arcane from a modern point of view, this kind of oath-taking has never really gone away. “Cross my heart…” is still part of our language of promise-making, as is crossing one’s self when one does it. And Jews still observe a dramatic form of this Biblical oath-taking today. For the same logic is working in one of the most memorable of all Jewish customs: breaking a glass at a wedding. It is meant to convey to all the witnesses present, “If I break the vows made here today, may I be broken thus!”

All of which comes to remind us that, from a religious perspective, promises matter. We moderns regard promises, be they political commitments, marriage vows, or personal promises, as easy to make and easy to break. The God of Israel, however, takes Her promises more seriously then we take our own. Perhaps we humans should consider reclaiming a more Biblical attitude towards standing by our words. We should only say what we mean, and always mean what we say. And we could show our seriousness by saying something like this: “…crack my cup or cut me up, so help me God!”

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Perfect Gift for Chanukah, Hanuka, Hanukka, Chanuka, Hanukkah - whatever

Give the gift of amazement to your family and friends this holiday season!

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism is the definitive one-volume reference book on the Jewish occult with over a thousand entries on authentic Jewish traditions, people, and events. Individual entries, such as “Angels,” “Amulets,” “Dreams,” “Ghosts,” “Magic,” “Sefirot,” and “Witchcraft,” are all drawn from the full scope of Jewish literature. The EJMMM also incorporates a wealth of recent scholarship.

This is a truly unique book. Though written for a general audience, it completely takes the “pop” out of Kabbalah and is faithful to authentic Jewish teachings. Any reader interested in metaphysics, shamanism, Kabbalah, spiritualism, or the Western magical tradition, will find the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism offers both authentic traditions and new insights. It is a book you will consult again and again.

For the first time ever 3500 years of accumulated secret wisdom, drawn from the wells of a great spiritual tradition, is at your fingertips. It shouldn’t be so easy.
Enlighten someone this Holiday of Lights.
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hebrew Magic Love Charms

[Standing beneath a potent palm tree (see below) are the hunky Jacob with the babalicious Rachel - known to the celebrity press as "Jakhel" - the first lustbunnies of the Bible]

Long (at least 3000 years) before Viagra came along, Jews were been looking for love in a bottle.

The first reference to a aphrodisiac may appear in the Torah itself. In Gen. 30:14, we read of the love-deprived Leah gathering something called דודאים. As it turned out, they worked for her, though not in the expected fashion. Now we translate this term as "mandrake," a root with long sexual associations, but the word itself is evidently derived from the verb דוּד, "to love." So it could easily mean, "love root" or even "love potion."[1] Unfortunately, the only other use of the word, in the Song of Songs 7:14, doesn’t really resolve the ambiguity.

But there is no ambiguity in the fact that later generations of Jews were looking hard into the lusty Song of Songs for that special formula, amulet, or magical potable that would ensure the affection of a beloved and/or the cure for what my commercial-watching 8 year old misinterprets as "reptile destruction."

Thus we find the words of Song of Songs, which the Rabbis banned from being sung in taverns, nevertheless appearing on amulets with fraught phrases such as אמרתי אעלה בתמר אחזה בסנסניו "I say: I will scale the palm; let me grip its branches" (7:9). I suppose a non-sexual, even theological, meaning could be attributed to this, but given the context from which it was extracted ("your awesome body is like a palm; your breasts are like clusters") the function of this talisman seems pretty clear - its the agrarian forerunner of "Your body's name must be Visa, because it's everywhere I want to be"- but with the the power of the divine, a kind of spiritual Porche, to help reel 'em in. Now we know why the Sages said we had to keep it out of the bars.

And if the quest for the ultimate pick-up line reaches all the way back into the hoary antiquity of Scripture, the battle against impotence is always looking for the next great solution. Here’s one I never thought of. This formula appears in a magical manual found in the Cairo Geniza:

ל [ח] ל אלמעקוד יכתב עלי ורק נאר וישרב בנביד והדא אלדי תכתבה....אתון אתיא קדישיא וקל קטיריא שרין וכשרין לגידא רביא דפל' בן פל'

"To release someone who is 'bound': Let him write on a leaf of pomegranate, and drink it in wine. This is what you should write (magic figures and letters) ‘You, holy symbols and characters, loosen and make fit the big sinew of Ploni ben Ploni’..."[2]

Both examples on message and straight to the point. You gotta wonder, how could these ancients fail with God as their wingman?
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism makes the perfect Chanukah gift: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] Davies, Magic, Divination, and Demonology Among the Hebrews and their Neighbors, p. 35.
[2] T-S K 1.91, as transcribed and translated in Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, p. 178.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Jewish Magic Spells: The Secret Language of Amulets

[A famous paper amulet against Lilith. The top line names the primordial beings: Adam, Eve, and Lilith.
The second line illustrates and names the three angels empowered against Lilith (who knew Big Bird was an angel of God?).
The third line is a series of abbreviations for biblical or rabbinic phrases of power.]

Early in Jewish history, as a way to save space on precious and scarce writing materials (easy to produce paper was centuries away), Jewish scribes developed an elaborate list of abbreviations for commonly used phrases and terms. For example, the title for God, Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu "The Holy Blessed One," became HKB"H.

Such acronyms, known as Roshei Teivot, "heads of words," litter the page of traditional Jewish works such as the Talmud and Midrash.

On Jewish amulets, too, abbreviations are common. In fact, Jewish talismans seem indecipherable, even to a Hebrew reader, precisely because acronyms rule. Many amulets are small, in order to be worn or carried. Often they are made out of precious or difficult to work materials (silver, for example). But abbreviations are also used precisely because they are a kind of code, and occult speech is powerful speech.

There are many types of magical abbreviations that appear on Jewish talismans-

A Biblical verse or phrase (It should be noted that Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1 objects to the use of Torah verses in medicinal spells. Jewish folk healers may have regarded the abbreviation of such verses as a way to make an end-run around that objection [1]):

ShYCh"G - Shuvah Yah Chatzah Nafshi, "Return O Eternal, save my life" (Ps. 6:5).

or a title of God:

Sh"Y - Shomer Yisrael, "Guardian of Israel" (Ps. 121)

It can be a verse from Jewish prayer:

AGL"A - Atah Gibor L'olam Adonai, "You are Forever Powerful, O Eternal" (Gevurot prayer)

or an adjuration:

BACh"V - Bashem El Chai V'kayyam, "[Do this] in the name of the living and enduring God"[2]


BM"T - B'Mazal Tov, "[bless me] with good fortune."

It can be for invoking the protection of angels:

ARGM"N - Uriel, Rafael, Gavriel, Mikhael, Nuriel

or for the kabbalistic sefirot:

CHBT"M - Chochmah, Binah, Tiferet, Malchut

Such phrases number into the hundreds. Even a reader of traditional Jewish texts may be at a loss to decode many amulet abbreviations. There are a number of books that can help, but I recommend ha-Kamiya ha-Yehudi, "The Hebrew Amulet" by Avraham Green, which provides exhaustive tables of such roshei teivot and their interpretation.

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] Davis, "The Psalms in Hebrew Medical Amulets," Vetus Testamentum, XLII, 2 (1992)

[2] I use a capital "A" to transliterate the alef, a silent letter which can bear several vowel sounds. Here it is the "e" in "El." In a later example it will be a "u" in "Uriel."