Body Snatchers, Haunted Mansions, and Revelations from the Abyss (3.12.08)
One of my favorite little books on Jewish mysticism is The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Adin Steinsaltz. Kabbalah can be extraordinarily complex, but I sometimes wonder if that's just a reflection of the limitations of the person explaining it. Mystics can be so... so mystifying... mysterious... mystagogic. But if you truly know something "from the inside," it's much easier than trying to describe it from the outside.
Imagine, for example, if you didn't know anything about hockey, and were trying to describe what was happening by simply observing a game from the outside. It would appear much more complicated and complex than it actually is. You wouldn't see the invisible strategy that is organizing the seeming chaos, you wouldn't understand the different roles of the players, and you wouldn't be aware of the rules under which the players are operating. When you really understand something, it actually reduces the complexity (which doesn't mean to say it becomes simplistic, or even simple--just easier to describe).
Having said that, some precious teachings should be protected by layers of enigma, paradox and oral transmission. How else to shield them from the grubby hands of a Madonna (imagine where those unholy hands have been.... Dennis Rodman.... Ewwwww!) or Britney Spears, who is so dense that she had a Hebrew symbol tattooed to the back of her neck--which is about as kosher as naming your kid Adolf.
Straight away, Steinsaltz sets the stage by writing that "The physical world in which we live, the objectively observed universe around us, is only a part of an inconceivably vast system of worlds. Most of these worlds are spiritual in their essence.... Which does not necessarily mean that they exist somewhere else, but means rather that they exist in different dimensions of being. What is more, the various worlds interpenetrate and interact in such a way that they can be considered counterparts of one another, each reflecting or projecting itself on the one below or above it."
I like this description because it is exactly analogous to the way the unconscious--the lower vertical--operates in psychoanalytic theory. The unconscious is another world that operates along different logical principles, but it is not "someplace else." It is not literally located in space, "below" the ego. Rather, it is right here, right now, interpenetrating everything we think and do. To "see" it, it is merely a matter of shifting your perspective. Like right now, if I open my ears, I hear a bird chirping in the backyard. In the distance is the "hoo hoo" of an owl. There's the very quiet humming of the computer. These things were always there, but it's a matter of paying attention to them.
Steinsaltz then proceeds straight into the differences between the vertical and horizontal, which for me is the essence of any spiritual metaphysics. Again, in speaking of the vertical, of higher and lower, he is not speaking of an actual physical location. Vertically speaking, "to call a world higher signifies that it is more primary, more basic in terms of being close to a primal source of influence; while a lower world would be a secondary world--in a sense, a copy." Thus, viewed horizontally, we may trace the material cosmos back to a primordial event some 13.7 billion years ago.
But this is only the horizontal explanation. Traditional metaphysics deals with the vertical causation of the cosmos, which is what confuses people. From the vertical standpoint, this world is indeed a copy, as are human beings, of a divine prototype. The "logos" might be thought of as the model of all things, the nexus between the divine mind above and the creation here below. Looked at in this manner, the inexplicable beauty of the world is not somehow the outcome of horizontal cause and effect. Rather beauty is the cause of the cosmos (among other nonlocal causes, such as Love and Truth).
Because of the ubiquitous vertical and horizontal influences, every aspect of human existence is made up of both matter and spirit, of form and essence. While we are fundamentally spiritual, we are unavoidably material, which sets up a host of interesting tensions and conflicts that fall under the heading of "the fall." The fall--or exile, if you like--is indeed a vertical one, a declension from the divine repose of celestial bliss, down to this world of toil, conflict, uncertainty and ambiguity.
In the past, I have posted on the inner meaning of "angels," which--now, don't be too literal here--are nothing more than vertical beings that travel in only two directions: up and down. Have you ever had a brilliant insight that came out of nowhere? No? How about you, Will? I thought so. That would be the gift of a vertical emissary. The more you reconcile yourself to the process and accept it on its own terms, the more messages you get. What about those lower promptings? Yes, we'll get to those momentarily.
Now that I've lost most of my readers, I'll ask the question: Did you know that you can create an angel, a vertical being? I know I do all the time. According to Steinsaltz, every mitzvah you perform--every good deed--is not just a horizontal act in the material world. It also has an effect in the vertical world. As a matter of fact, a holy act creates an angel, a new spiritual reality that will then go on to have its own vertical life and influence.
Let's just consider a banal but highly illustrative example, the first one that came to my mind--Oscar Schindler. One flawed man nevertheless trying to do the decent thing in a hopeless hell of utter depravity. But how many countless angels did he create, angels that continue to bless the world in demonstrable ways!
Let's jump ahead to the shadow side of this spiritual economy. For, as Steinsaltz explains, "just as there are holy angels built into and created by the sacred system, there are also destructive angels, called 'devils' or 'demons', who are the emanations of the connection of man with those aspects of reality which are the opposite of holiness." Thus it would follow that, just as good deeds create beneficent vertical beings, other actions create vertical beings "of another sort, from another level and a different reality." In so far as it is possible to do so, I try to create angels with this blog. I don't know if I am successful, but I do know that I attract demons.
Here again, you can take this literally or you can take it figuratively. But think, for example of just one awesome conjurer of demons, say, Karl Marx, the anti-Moses who belched his new revelation from the vertical depths of darkness. Could you even begin to count the number of devils, demons, and other agents of the nether world who are still being created and still making mischief as a result of falling under his sinister spell? You do see them, don't you? They're everywhere! Some things are metaphors, some are not. The term body snatcher is not a metaphor. Petey says that it explains all you need to know about the left.
If you have stayed with me this far, then you will understand that, just as there are evil beings, there are evil worlds. These are simply the "space" inhabited by the evil beings. Wisdom is a space, or "mansion." So too, creativity, love, beauty, peace. You can sense it when you enter one of those mansions. You can also sense it when you are near one of those haunted mansions where the dark ones reside.
The closest I like to get to one of these mansions is memri.org, which makes the Islamic darkness visible to us on a daily basis. Can you not feel and sense the utterly dark abyss of that black hole, where light neither enters nor escapes? If not, you may want to contact an exorcist, for something has hijacked your moral vision. There are many such vertical abysses in the world. Bottomless pits of anti-Truth and anti-Beauty.
Enough malevolent wishes and wicked deeds, and pretty soon you have created a world. People are fascinated by these worlds. In fact--this may just be apocryphal--I once read someone who pointed out the etymological links between "fascist" and "fascinate." For fascism begins with fascination, a sort of hypnosis, a dulling of the conscience, and the intoxicating infectiousness of the Unrepressed Man who lives by his will and his impulses, outside the Law.
Obviously, the evil beings have no independent existence, since their existence is contingent upon human actions. They are "parasites on the light," so to speak. But, once created, they are "alive" in a very real sense. Again, feel free to consider it metaphorically, but do consider it. There is a sort of "spiritual increase" that goes on. For example, the more you nurture and take care of something, the more you will love it. Likewise, the more you choose evil, the more it will be as if evil is choosing you--you become an instrument of it.
This process is described so exhaustively in great films and novels that it is hardly worth noting here except in passing. One of the reasons I enjoy the classic film noir of the 1940's is that they often deal with just this theme, of the typical person--say Fred McMurray in Double Indemnity--at first haltingly, then enthusiastically, making a key decision that then plunges them into the realm of dark forces beyond their control. McMurray, for example, thought he was "choosing," but all the while he was being tempted, seduced, hypnotized. Gotcha!
The Godfather also obviously touches on this theme in the pivotal character of Michael, who, by film's end, has transformed from fresh-faced innocent to devil incarnate, devolving far beyond his father, who still had a touch of humanity. While in the higher vertical we can never surpass the prototype, in the lower vertical we can. We can, like Hitler, be worse than the demon who inspired us.
As Steinsaltz describes it, "the sinner is punished by the closing of the circle, by being brought into contact with the domain of evil he creates.... as long as man chooses evil, he supports and nurtures whole worlds and mansions of evil, all of them drawing upon the same human sickness of the soul.... as the evil flourishes and spreads over the world because of the deeds of men, these destructive angels become increasingly independent existences, making up a whole realm that feeds on and fattens on evil."
Hitler. Stalin. Bin Laden. Yasser Arafat. Kim Jong-il. Ahmadinejad. Detached worlds of pure evil as an end in itself. Who could say it isn't so?
That would be the Old Serpent's vast team of useful idiots. He's got a very deep bench.