The music of the angels is the Expression of Eternity as against Time

‘If temporality has a beginning and an end, what was this beginning and what will be the end? And what is before the beginning and after the end?… The questions are metaphysical and the answers therefore equally so. But the essence of the myth, or belief is a conception of Time as finite – that is with a beginning and an end, what I have called temporality – and this finite Time is then set against God’s Eternity… Time only began with the Creation, and will end with it. God is in Eternity, not Time…

In a sense the dialogue between God and the world is the dramatization of the metaphysical relationship between Eternity and Time. And the music of the angels is part of the expression of this drama – as indeed the angels themselves are important actors in the drama. So that keeping these two aspects of dialogue and relationship in mind we can say that, in the history of God’s dealings with man, the next most dramatic moment after the Creation of the universe and Time was the irruption of Eternity into Time through the birth of Christ as God and man. This inexpressible moment of the divine drama – inexpressible by man that is – was actually expressed by the simultaneous appearance of the angels to the shepherds. What the angels then sang was the expression of a minute vision of Eternity…

… the angels do not really enter the scheme of Christian redemption, their function remains what it always was, the everlasting worship and praise of God, not in Time, of course, but in Eternity… it is all a metaphor. The music of the angels is the expression of Eternity as against Time’ (Michael Tippett, Music of the Angels, 1964).





Meta-needs and species being

Interested in ideas that all this ‘magic’ is not supernatural but is about an enhanced relationship with what is ‘natural’ to human beings. This from Nevill Drury, Exploring the Labyrinth: Makng a Sense of the New Spirituality (New York: Continuum, 1999):

‘Maslow acknowledged… that when the basic needs were met in a human being, newer and ‘higher’ needs would then emerge. Individuals whose basic needs were met would in all likelihood develop what Maslow called ‘meta-needs’ or needs related to one’s sense of being… For Maslow, these higher, more aesthetic needs – encompassing such issues as the quest for truth, beauty, intuition, and transcendence -were as important to the human organism as the more tangible physiological considerations associated with physical survival…

“Not only is man part of Nature, and it part of him, but also he must be at least minimally isomorphic with Nature in order to be viable in it. It has evolved him. His communion with what transcends him therefore need not be defined as non-natural or supernatural. It may be seen as a ‘biological’ experience” (Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being)

..the ‘highest’ experience ever described, the joyful fusion with the ultimate that we can conceive, can be seen simultaneously as the deepest experience of our ultimate personal animality and specieshood, as the acceptance of our profound biological nature as isomorphic with Nature in general’

Not a big fan of Jung, but Drury notes that in his conception of mythical archetypes there is also an understanding of them as a symbolic expressipn of ‘the constantly repeated experiences of humanity’, such as seeing the sun ‘One of the commonest and at the same time most impressive experiences is the apparent movement of the sun every day’ (Jung, Two Essays in Ana;ytical Psychology)

As Drury summarises, ‘the arcehtype may take the form of an anthropomorphic rendition of a force in Nature. Its potency derives from the fact that the observation of the Sun’s movement constitutes one of the universal, fundamental experiences of existence, and is something which humans cannot change, a power beyond our manipulation. The Sun becomes an object of veneration, and mystically one of a number of archetypes with which to identiy in religious or ritual acts of transcendence’


Beautiful Losers

‘Here is a plea based on my whole experience: do not be a magician, be magic’ (Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers, 1966)

new skin


Erich Fromm on the Shabbat & Messianic Time

From Fromm’s ‘To Have or To Be?’ (1976):

‘The Shabbat is the most important of the biblical concepts, and of later Judaism. It is the only strictly religious command in the Ten Commandments: its fulfilment is insisted upon by the otherwise antiritualistic prophets; it was a most strictly observed commandment throughout 2,000 years of Diaspora life, wherein its observation often was hard and difficult. It can hardly be doubted that the Shabbat was the fountain of life for the Jews, who, scattered, powerless, and often despised and persecuted, renewed their pride and dignity when like kings they celebrated the Shabbat. Is the Shabbat nothing but a day of rest in the mundane sense of freeing people, at least on one day, from the burden of work? To be sure it is that, and this function gives it the dignity of one of the great innovations in human evolution.

Yet if this were all that it was, the Shabbat would hardly have played the central role I have just described. In order to understand this role we must penetrate to the core of the Shabbat institution. It is not rest per se, in the sense of not making an effort, physically or mentally. It is rest in the sense of the re-establishment of complete harmony between human beings and between them and nature. Nothing must be destroyed and nothing be built: the Shabbat is a day of truce in the human battle with the world. Even tearing up a blade of grass is looked upon as a breach of this harmony, as is lighting a match… On the Shabbat one lives as if one has nothing, pursuing no aim except being, that is, expressing one’s essential powers: praying, studying, eating, drinking, singing, making love. The Shabbat is a day of joy because on that day one is fully oneself.

This is the reason the Talmud calls a Shabbat the anticipation of the Messianic Time, and the Messianic Time the unending Shabbat : the day on which property and money as well as mourning and sadness are tabu; a day on which time is defeated and pure being rules. The historical predecessor, the Babylonian Shapatu, was a day of sadness and fear. The modern Sunday is a day of fun, consumption, and running away from oneself. One might ask if it is not time to re-establish the Shabbat as  a universal day of harmony and peace, as the human day that anticipates the human future.

The vision of the Messianic Time is the other specifically Jewish contribution to world culture, and one essentially identical with that of the Shabbat. This vision, like the Shabbat, was the life-sustaining hope of the Jews, never given up in spite of the severe disappointments that came with the false messiahs, from Bar Kochba in the second century to our days. Like the Shabbat it was a vision of a historical period in which possession will have become meaningless, fear and war will have ended, and the expression of our essential powers will have become the aim of living’.


An Elemental Tree of Life

Gershon Winkler’s ‘Daily Kabbalah: wisdom from the tree of life’ (2004) collects together ‘user friendly renditions’ of teachings from various Aramaic and Hebraic sources. Winkler has written on ‘Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism’ and his selection reflects that focus,  with aphorisms about talking trees, singing stars and the four kinds of beings dwelt in by ‘the Divine Presence’: Still Beings (stones, planets),  Sprouting Beings (trees, grasses, plants), Living Beings (animals, fish, birds, insects) and Talking  Beings(humans) – the latter categorisation attributed to Rabbi Yisro’el Ba’al Shem Tov (1700-1760).

Winkler attributes an Element to each of the Sephirot, deriving this schema from relevant passages in the Sefer Yetzirah, which he summarises as follows: ‘In the beginning there was Breath of God. From Breath of God came Wind. From Wind came Water. From Water came Fire. From Fire came Sky. From Sky came Earth. From Earth came North Wind. From North Wind came South Wind. From South Wind came East Wind. From East Wind came West Wind’.

It all started therefore with the ‘Breath of God and Keh’ter… symbolic of the No-Thing place from where everything originates’. Next  ‘Breath of Light became Wind and hollowed out a space in No-Thing in which there now arose the possibility of Some-Thing’.  From the wind’s vapor came Water (Chokmah), and then ‘As the moisture of the primeval Breath created water, so did the warmth of the primeval breath create Fire’ (Chesed). Fire and Water in balance gave rise to Sky at G’vurah – ‘Sky in Hebrew reads as ‘sh’mayyim’, literally ‘Fire Water’, for it is where two dwell together in balance a la sun and rain’.  Next at Tif’eret Earth is ‘brought to her fruition by virtue of sky, by the hamonization of fire and water and balanced directing of their flows’.  The final four Sephirot are associated with the Four Winds (I will return to the significance of the winds in another post).

I have placed these attributions on a ‘tree of life’ diagram as follows.



They suck the marrow from the bones of men


‘Those that are in Authority and power suck the very Marrow from the Bones of Men of low Degree and Rank, and feed upon the sweat of their Browes’

(Jacob Boehme, 1575-1624, The Aurora)


Merkaba – Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer‘s recent exhibition at the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey included plenty of Kabbalist content, such as his piece ‘Merkaba’.

His bicycle might not be quite the vision of the throne-chariot of G_d described by Ezekiel – but it has the wheels, and the pewter bowls suspended from the bike frame more than hint at alchemy (they contain salt, sulphur and mercury).

4: And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
5: Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
6: And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
7: And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.
8: And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.
9: Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
10: As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.
11: Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.
12: And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.
13: As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
14: And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.
15: Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.
16: The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.
17: When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went.
18: As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.
19: And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.
20: Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
21: When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.

(Ezekiel, Chapter I, King James Bible)