29
Feb
08

In the beginning

At the beginning of this year I turned 45 and decided the time was finally right for me to turn to studying Kabbalah. Walking into my local library last month in South London I picked up a book on the history of Kabbalah and set to work. 

In 30 years of forays through the library of ideas I have been up and down many aisles – Marxism in various manifestations (council communism, autonomism and lately, the Frankfurt School), anarchism, surrealism, the Situationists, punk, rave, folk, feminism, liberation theology, Buddhism, neo-paganism… Today my belief system, such as it is, includes elements from most of the above particularly those threads that relate to change, creativity, connectedness and commons.

At various points on this intellectual and practical journey, I have stumbled across Kabbalah but have generally put it back on the top shelf. I just was never in the right frame of mind to put in the rigorous effort I perceived as necessary to understand its complexities. And in any event, one of the first things I had read about it was that it was best studied in maturity. An early Kabbalist text  quotes the Talmudic statement that ‘The forty-two lettered Name, holy and sanctified, is entrusted only to one who is middle-aged, pious, free from ill temper, a teetotaller who shuns the taking of revenge’ (1). I am sure I don’t meet all these criteria – perhaps none apart from the age, but that’s a start isn’t it?

What I hadn’t bargained on was that by the time I got round to it, Kabbalah would have become perceived as the latest celebrity new age spiritual fix. Everybody has now heard of it and many people assume that it is some kind of cult of red-bracelet wearing Hollywood adepts. I know enough about it to want to look beyond this spectacular image at a rich cultural stream with getting on for a thousand years of thought and practice behind it.  It is my intent  to use this blog to reflect on what I learn along the way.`

(1) The text referred to is the early 13th century ‘Interpretation of the Four-lettered Holy Name’ attributed to the ‘Iyyun circle of Jewish mystics. There are 42 Hebrew letters between the first letter of Genesis 1:1 and the beginning of the sentence  following ‘and void’ in Genesis 1:2.

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