Friday, November 30, 2007


I finished a book in the hospital. The title is JEWISH MAGIC AND SUPERSTITION: A STUDY IN FOLK RELIGION, by Joshua Trachtenberg with a Forword by Moshe Idel. The copyright date is 1939, and as you can see it's published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Portions of the book are available online at Google Books. Moshe Idel, incidentally, is termed "one of the most eminent and influential scholars of Jewish mysticism in the world" by the University of California

I found the sixth chapter with the same title as this blog to be particularly interesting. Here's why:

The characteristic and distinguishing feature of medieval Jewish magic was the function which it assigned to the angels, the agents of God. The magical use of angels was of course predicated upon the assumption that the world is very thickly populated with them, and that they play a unique role in nature.....every single thing on earth, animate or inanimate...owns its angelic representative above. This is the heart of the angel-lore. Houses and cities, winds and seasons, months and hours and days, each star above, each speck of dust underfoot, no thing in nature or in fancy exists independently of its memuneh, its heavenly "deputy"....This belief was coupled with the conception of astrology that each man is accompanied by a star which governs his existence....

If a man's prayers are to be answered, the angel of his star must have first offered them directly before the Throne of Glory....

This idea constitutes the main theoretical basis of medieval Jewish magic. Ubiquitour and all-powerful, the "deputy angels" were the perfect medium through which the sorcerer, when he had acquired the requisite secret knowledge and skill, could influence man and nature to obey him.....

The long lists in such a work as
Sefer Raziel are proof of the arduous training that the novice in magic must undergo if he would learn how to direct a situation at a given moment....

This system was a singular translation of Platonic idealism into the theosophical lingo of the early
Kabbalah....Sefer Hasidim and the works of Eleazar of Worms display the influence of this doctrine on almost every page. The unparalled luxuriousness of invention that characterized thirteenth-century Jewish angelology, sired by this theory, seems at first glance to have been a striking departure from traditional Jewish belief. But a brief review of the development of Jewish angel-lore discloses its thoroughly orthodox mystical antecedents....

In the Talmudic period the Biblical angelology was elaborated and enriched in three directions: angelic ministration was frequently inferred in Biblical narratives which made no mention of it, thus broadening the concept of angels as intermediaries between man and God; the personality of the angels was more clearly delineated through the effort to describe them, to name the more important ones, and to accord them peculiar spheres of influence, so that we have "princes" of fire, of hail, of rain, of night, of the sea, of healing, and so on; and finally they were appointed man's guardians to accompany him through his daily routine. The Essenes were said to have possessed an especially well-developed angel-lore, and the Enoch literature, reflecting Gnostic sources, had much to say concerning them, and implied their control of nature, man, and the future. These two founts of mystical doctrine, while never formally admitted into Jewish thought and in fact frowned upon by rabbinic authorities, exercised a profound influence upon the extramural activities of the mystics.
(Trachtenberg, pp 69 - 72)

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