Tag Archives: Ben Trafford

Meditation and Kabbalah

Ben Trafford reviews Meditation and Kabbalah by Aryeh Kaplan in the Bkwyrm archive.

Aryeh Kaplan was, quite simply, the shit. A theoretical physicist by training, he turned away from the study of science to focus on Kabbalah and other aspects of Judaic theology. Although most well-known to the occult community as, arguably, the foremost published author on the subject, he also wrote a number of books on Judaism in general. He kicked off when he was 48, which is a sad loss for both Jewish scholars and the rest of us goyim.

In “Meditation and Kabbalah,” we have an excellent treatise on the history and philosophy of Kabbalah from a fairly Orthodox Jewish perspective. Better yet, we get a book that describes practical techniques for engaging in that sort of meditation.

Now, if you’re used to the Llewellyn school of publishing, you’ll probably be a little dumbfounded by all these comments he makes about the Torah (the Old Testament, for you Christian types). This is not Elaine Cunningham’s witches qabbalah, friends. This is the Real Deal. And there’s all sorts of neat stuff in here. A Judaic system of chiromancy; tons of gematria; and lots of history about the Kabbalic schools of thought within Judaism. Best of all, he has a tremendous bibliography, for those of us who like to read where the author got his ideas from.

All in all, one of the best books on Kabbalah out there. If you like, I also recommend “The Bahir,” “Sefer Yetzirah,” and “Tzitzith.” Good stuff.

Find this book at Amazon, Abebooks, and Powell’s

Ecstasies

Ben Trafford reviews Ecstasies: Deciphering The Witches’ Sabbath by Carlo Ginzburg in the Bkwyrm archive.

The debate has raged in the occult community for the last forty years or so, and longer in the anthropological community: were the witches in Europe merely the victims of Christian hysteria, or were they the secret keepers of preChristian beliefs? Margaret Murray’s work on this topic has been largely debunked, as has Robert Graves. The Gardnerian history is still a hot topic, and of course, anyone who claims to have maintained some hereditary tradition is usually scoffed at, rightly. But Ginzburg’s work lets us look at the whole question in a new light. Like most good scholars, he’s meticulously unearthed evidence to show that the polarized views are, as usual, wrong.

Ginzburg maintains, and provides powerful evidence, to say that there were remnants of preChristian practices. He does agree that many of those who suffered under the witch trials were wrongly accused Christian folk, and he doesn’t support the idea of a knowing, secret priesthood who maintained unaltered preChristian belief systems. What he posits is far more interesting, and viable. He puts forth that the remnants of the pagan faiths were maintained in an evolving form by the peasantry, and grew to suit their needs. Like the Irish Catholic who still leaves milk out for the wee folk, these people believed themselves to be Christian, but practiced some rituals that certainly wouldn’t have been condoned in a church!

A brilliant piece of work, and well worth reading. The translation from the original Italian is quite good, too. I’ve read both, and heartily recommend either.

A final note: Ginzburg’s focus is almost exclusively continental Europe. He doesn’t touch on the British Isles at all.

Find this book at Amazon, Abebooks, or Powell’s

A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot

Ben Trafford reviews A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot by Ronald Decker, Thierry Depaulis, and Michael Dummett, in the Bkwyrm archive.

Wow. I’m quite willing to bet that this book has outraged more occultists (of the self-important variety) than Kelly’s Crafting the Art of Magick.

The authors, a bunch of fairly dour and sarcastic scholars, handily debunk the various myths surrounding the occult origins of the tarot. That’s right, once and for all, Cheops did not hand a bunch of stone tablets directly to Cleopatra.

Aside from the acerbic historical dissection of the popular beliefs about the deck, they also provide some wonderful pictures of archaic decks, and let us trace the evolution of the tarot cards to the standardization provided courtesy of A.E. Waite. This book is a gem for anyone who doesn’t need the cards to be handed down from the mystical lords of Atlantis to find them useful.

Two final points on this book: it’s heartening to see that the occult community was as filled with twinkies three hundred years ago as it is today. Also, these guys finally do something I’ve been waiting for someone to do for years: they out-and-out toss that stupid Kabbalistic tree of life bunk right out the window.

Hurray! Best $15 I’ve spent in a while.