Seeing the Divine: Meditation with a Flame

One of the several things I promised myself I’d work on this year was reducing the stress in my life. I thought I’d maybe learn some yoga, although I have tried this a number of times before without much success. I also considered meditation. But I knew I did not want to do any New Age sort of meditation. Life is short: I am interested in delving further into my own interests in witchcraft/magic and Judaism rather than wandering around in New Age Land. I was very impressed some years ago now when I read Aryeh Kaplan’s “Meditation and Kabbalah,” which is a survey of all the different sorts of meditation that have been a part of Jewish mysticism since the ancient times. I even tried doing Abraham Abulafia‘s meditation on the 72-letter-name of the divine, but this is rather involved and I knew from that and other experiences that if a meditation technique is very involved, I am probably not going to “find” time to do it.

But I have another book by Kaplan, a little more mainstream, called “Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide.” I saw that he mentioned saying “Ribbonu shel olam” over and over, this phrase meaning “master of the universe.” I tried that and it was all right. I covered my head and face with my tallit. I knew from readings of the past that some Jews, before they began reading the prayers for the day, covered their faces with their tallit to just get into the zone, to open up the connection to the divine, to make a distinction between the mundane and the sacred, a way of saying, “Okay, now I’m going to focus on sacred things instead of mundane concerns.” I also noticed that Daniel Schulke recommends covering one’s face with the witch’s hood when doing various rituals for contact with spirits in Viridarium Umbris, so I figured this would be good in both worlds.:) And I do want to have a foot in both–the world of Jewish mysticism and the world of witchcraft, because although they might be contradictory, they are who I am. To that end, I ordered a copy of Christopher Penczak’s “Inner Temple of Witchcraft” because it is described as having a lot of meditation exercises that have to do with witchcraft and it comes highly recommended by friends. Yes, I know it has some New Age stuff in it too, like chakras, but I will do my best to ignore that part. :) I figured it would be inspirational, at any rate, and I look forward to reading it and listening to the CD. But for now, I have the Kaplan book and I am going with that.

The “Ribbonu shel Olam” meditation is actually a standard practice from Breslov Judaism and not anything new (Kaplan was associated with this sect). I’ve mentioned that sect before here in this blog and that I am interested in some of their practices, such as their practice of charity, which I have adopted as my own). The “Ribbonu shel Olam” meditation is a basic technique of theirs, and it did “work” for me. I continued to look at the book, though, and found several practices I wanted to try. One particularly drew me–using color, especially a particular color blue.

This is based on the several descriptions in the Hebrew Bible that associate the divine with the color sapphire blue. This makes great sense, since a couple of the versions of the divine in that book are sky gods, basically, although there are other forms of the divine: fire, for one (the burning bush), storm, and probably most hidden, the earth/feminine–Shaddai, the breasted one, the high mountain (and what does a mountain look like but a breast?). And the connection to blue is strong in Judaism; at one time it was common for ritual fringes to contain one blue thread, dyed according to a special recipe–the fringe as a whole to remind us of our obligations, the blue thread to remind us of the presence of the divine. And this practice of including a blue thread is returning, although my own fringes are just plain white.

I liked the idea of focusing on the color blue especially because of a recent painting idea I had that incorporates French ultramarine. This is a traditional sky color for watercolor artists in the European tradition, but I haven’t worked with this color for a while. The painting I was planning would use it for the sea instead (I want the sky to be much darker). At any rate, for me there was some synchronicity going on here with the color blue.

Right after the meditation on the color blue, Kaplan talks about various meditation techniques described in the Zohar, an extensive Jewish mystical text written in the 13th century (although traditionalists claim it was merely channeled, basically, at that time and was really written in ancient days). One of the Zohar’s techniques uses a flame for meditation. The individual is encouraged to see the five colors of the flame: white, yellow, red, black, and sky blue. Each color represents some aspect of the universe. The Zohar says that the blue color appears around the black area of the flame and represents the Shekhinah, or the divine presence on Earth, that lives with us here in exile. You can see this blue in the photo I took of my candle’s flame. It does indeed surround the “black fire.” Kaplan says that according to the Sefer Yetzirah, a difficult mystical text that is in fact ancient, one can see visions in this area of blue. He also mentions, but doesn’t go into it, that this color is associated with divination in the Kabbalah. I’ll have to dig into that.

Kaplan recommends a traditional olive oil lamp for this meditation but says if all you’ve got is a candle, go for it (one of the things I love about Breslov: “just make it work”).  I used a candle–in fact, the same candle I’ve been using in my Home spellwork. During the meditation, the individual is supposed to examine each of the areas of the flame and come to understand what that color means for the universe. I like the idea that the blue surrounds the black and sort of cradles the other colors of the flame–basically, that the divine is in everthing (“We do not have to reach up to heaven for God; God is here, with us”–if I may say so, a very Pagan appreciation of the divine and one I can totally get with).

I expect to use this blue flame meditation quite a bit and I recommend it. I really like the idea of using colors and something real to look at. My mind wanders a great deal if I try to use words for meditation. The only thing wrong with this meditation for me was that a number of times, I got so relaxed that I began to fall asleep, lol!

10 comments to Seeing the Divine: Meditation with a Flame

  • jonquil

    Falling asleep is my main issue with meditation!
    Let us know how the book works for you.

  • Josephine McCarthy’s “Vision of the Void” as a meditational practice is awesome -and uses a candle flame as a central focus.

    I see no contradiction in combining Jewish Mysticism and Witchcraft. Magic is by its nature, syncretic.

    Thanks for the seeds by the way. I failed to do a winter solstice planting, but hope to germinate them in the fridge before planting time.

    • Alchemist in Charge

      It’s true about magic being syncretic by its nature. I would like to be less of a mutt when it comes to magic and spirituality, but this is just the way it has sorted out, and although I have tried to stick to one or the other, I have not been able to do it and I finally gave up trying. It feels like they inform each other, and now that I am doing art steadily, that this is a third piece that makes everything whole. Including me.:)

      You’re welcome for the seeds. Happy planting!

  • Faustianbargain

    Chakras occur in Hindu and Buddhist texts. And in certain tantric/yogic ideas. Unsure what exactly ‘new age’ includes, but these are centuries old concepts.

    Best wishes for 2014 , Harry!

    • Alchemist in Charge

      The witches in question aren’t Hindus or Buddhists, though, Faustian. :) I have seen chakras transplanted into all sorts of things where historically they did not have a role, like Kabbalah. I would feel as weird about using them as I would about going to a sweat lodge run by a bunch of white people. But then, it has taken me years to accept that non-Jews use Kabbalah and even impose Christ on it. Best wishes for 2014 to you as well, Faustian!

  • Faustianbargain

    Gotcha!

    On another note…because I can’t comment on the previous post…the belladonna painting is beyond gorgeous. I can’t wait for henbane and the moon. I wish you were closer so I can learn from you.

    • Alchemist in Charge

      Hi, Faustian,

      I had to set it to disallow comments after 2 weeks because the amount of spam was unbelievable, like 1000 spam comments a day. It was taking me too long just to delete them.

      Wish you were closer too. I am having a great time learning how to paint. I have researched watercolor painting into the ground, because that’s how I have to do things, being a Scorpio.:) I’ve tried different techniques. With the Henbane Moon painting, I tried using a zinc white glaze on the Moon’s two glazes of bismuth yellow, and now it is the color I envisioned, a kind of buttery yellow. I have never used white in a watercolor before and it has got me interested in its other possibilities, so I’ve been researching that–like using it to depict mist or fog. I’ve been thinking about posting a photo of this painting as a work-in-progress today. Not sure if I have the guts to do that.

      Harold

  • Drew

    Harold:
    Thanks for your interesting report on meditation. I have recently read and have been delving more into “The Book of Sacred Names” by Jacobus G. Swart. THis is a big read with traditional kabbalistic practices revolving around the use of Divine and Angelic Names. Swart was a student of William Gray, but apparently studied in Israel as a young man before meeting Gray. It’s somewhat pricey, but unlike so many magical books, worth it.

    • Alchemist in Charge

      I’m glad you liked it, DRew. I have Swart’s book and like it a lot! I have created talismans from some of the names in there and their associated angels and princes. I am very much looking forward to his next work.

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