‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah

I learned of an interesting exhibit going on at the National Museum of Jewish American History that I thought was fun and interesting. Something that those of you in Philadelphia may want to check out this holiday season.

The history of Hanukkah and Christmas songs and the Jewish musicians, artists, and songwriters who wrote and performed them is the focus of the National Museum of American Jewish History’s newest installation, ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah, opening November 4, 2014. The installation combines a cozy living room setting with modern technology to deliver a compelling story about the blending of the American and Jewish musical season, the soundtracks of religious holidays, and the musical standards we know today.

Featuring well-known artists such as Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman, Bob Dylan, the Ramones, and Lou Reed, as well as Christmas gems by the likes of Jewish salsa giant Larry Harlow, and Jewish stage and screen icons Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson, this multimedia installation will set to music American Jewish efforts to invent, re-invent, and celebrate a season marked by family, gift-giving, food traditions, and well-loved music—across multiple faiths.

“The Christmas music industry, as a quintessentially American enterprise, provided a way for Jewish songwriters, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, to feel American. By showing how an outsider community can enter mainstream American culture, Christmas songs highlight a classic American Jewish narrative,” says Ivy Weingram, associate curator of NMAJH and co-curator of ‘Twas.

In a gallery styled as a cozy living room, visitors will be able to enjoy interactive song and video platforms, as well as images of holiday-related artifacts from the Museum’s collection of 30,000 objects, delivered on curated iPads accompanied by text and graphics of holiday celebrations. In addition to the audio visual component of the installation, visitors will have hands-on access to record albums, a wide selection of books on American popular music and Jewish history, and kids’ toys and books.

A ‘Twas-themed self-guided tour highlighting holiday-related objects in the permanent collection will also be available.

The installation is inspired by the critically-acclaimed 2012 music compilation produced by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, which draws on jazz, folk, rap, Latin, and Klezmer musical styles. “At the Idelsohn Society, our goal has always been re-examining the Jewish-American musical past in new contemporary contexts,” says Idelsohn co-founder, Josh Kun. “Collaborating with NMAJH offers a rare opportunity to do this in a premier Museum setting where these songs and their commentaries on Jewish life, identity, and ritual will take on new meanings with new publics.”

‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah will build on the cutting-edge interactive media for which the Museum has been widely recognized. This family-friendly, seasonal installation will run through March 1 and is designed to be enjoyed by visitors of all backgrounds.

For those of you who are interested, I have the “‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah” musical compilation CD in the “I Recommend” widget on the site here. It’s also available for download through Amazon.

Sixty-Minute Seder

A few of years back I admitted to being a “bad” Jew and hosting less than polished Seders. However each year we have a Passover Seder, a special ritual dinner where we tell the story of the Jews flight from Egypt. Seder comes from the Hebrew word for order, referring to the order of the ritual. I always hope that like in most things, it’s the thought that counts.

You know who are some awesome Jews? Cass (Yickezkale) and Nellie (Nechama) Foster. These guys aren’t “bad”, they’re Orthodox. They’re some hardcore, boxing up pots, pans, dishes, silverware, etc. keeping Kosher folks. That also means they were hosting what could politely be called marathon Passover Seders. 50 or more dinner guests were attending Passover Seders that would last 3 or 5 hours.

Cass Foster, known for having written “Sixty-Minute Shakespeare” plays was soon jokingly, or not so jokingly, being asked, “What about a Sixty-Minute Seder?” And so the “Sixty-Minute Seder: Preserving the Essence of the Passover Haggadah” by Cass (Yickezkale) and Nellie (Nechama) Foster was born.

The Haggadah helps guide you through the Passover Seder and there are tons available with loads of different focuses; ranging from feminism to children. “Sixty-Minute Seder” is traditional but simple enough to follow that even a below Reform level Jew can follow what’s going on. It also has recipes, and you all know how I love recipes!

With Passover in just a couple of weeks, now may be the time to consider taking a new Haggadah out for a test drive. Perhaps this will be the year you’ll have a “Sixty-Minute Seder”.

Thou Art That

How sad is this? I honestly feel just awful. I seriously started this book review over 5 times. That’s right kids, OVER 5 TIMES! I was given a copy of “Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor” by Joseph Campbell. It’s collected from previously unpublished work. It does what Campbell does best, compares the Judeo-Christian faiths similarities and misrepresentations with scholarship that is authoritative, yet a dummy like me can understand.

What do I say about that besides I liked it? That I REALLY liked it! Here’s what I’d like to say, it comes from Eugene Kennedy, Ph.D., “Thou Art That’s” editor:

“Tat tvam asi” is a phrase that appears often in these collected spiritual reflections of the late Joseph Campbell. These words also inscribe a signature of celebration on his life and work. Translated from the Sanskrit as “thou art that,” this epigram captures Campbell’s generous spirit just as it does his scholarly focus. The great student of mythology not only understood the profound spiritual implications of the phrase but, quite unselfconsciously, lived by them as well.

Joseph Campbell was fond of asking Schopenhauer’s question, found in his essay “On the Foundation of Morality:” “How is it possible that suffering that is neither my own nor of my concern should immediately affect me as though it were my own, and with such force that it moves me to action?…This is something really mysterious, something for which Reason can provide no explanation, and for which no basis can be found in practical experience. It is not unknown even to the most hard-hearted and self-interested. Examples appear every day before our eyes of instant responses of the kind, without reflection, one person helping another, coming to his aid, even setting his own life in clear danger for someone whom he has seen for the first time, having nothing more in mind than that the other is in need and in peril of his life….”

Schopenhauer’s response, one Campbell delighted in making his own, was that the immediate reaction and response represented the breakthrough of a metaphysical realization best rendered as “thou art that.” This presupposes, as the German philosopher wrote, his identification with someone not himself, a penetration of the barrier between persons so that the other was no longer perceived as an indifferent stranger but as a person “in whom I suffer, in spite of the fact that his skin does not enfold my nerves.”

And I feel like that’s the real story this collection of previously unpublished works is trying to tell us. Christian, Jewish, whatever. You are a person that’s part of this crazy experiment called humanity. “Thou art that.”

The Alphabet for Lovers

Some of you may remember that back in December 2011 I reviewed the unique divinatory set Tokens of Light by Orna Ben-Shoshan. I’m happy to say she’s back with “The AlphaBet for Lovers: Insights, Advice & Prophecies about Love and Relationships According to the Hebrew Alphabet”. If you were intrigued by “Tokens of Light”, you’re going to LOVE “The AlphaBet for Lovers”.

“The AlphaBet for Lovers” is a set of 72 small (when compared to tarot) heart-shaped cards. Each card has a letter of the Hebrew alphabet on it and according to Ben-Shoshan the Kabbalah attributes more meaning to these letters. A heart will have a beautiful piece of Orna Ben-Shoshan’s art on one side along with a number and the other side will have a short phrase that is associated with the Hebrew letter that is on the back. The set comes in a box designed to look like a book and with a pretty bag to carry the heart cards in.

Although the name says “Lovers”, “The AlphaBet for Lovers” is designed for examining relationships in general. Relationships between co-workers, parent and child, etc. are all fair game for examination. Readings are relatively straight forward. You reach your hand into the bag and mix the hearts while focusing on your question. Once you feel your hand is drawn to a heart, you select it, and by using the number on the front of the heart you can easily look it up in the companion book and learn its meaning.

And not too sound like an infomercial, but wait! There’s still more! If you go to her site you can also check out “The 9 Blessings: For Love, Health, and Success”. These are 9 Kabbilistic amulets on cards conveniently sized to carry in your wallet or purse. You could easily carry them in your pocket as long as you think you could remember to take it out before washing your clothes!

Once again Orna Ben-Shoshan has created an enchanting and unique divinatory set. To learn more, you can visit her site.

Like an Orange

When discussing Judaism it’s generally broken down into three levels of adherence: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Technically, I’m Jewish. Having only been to a synagogue a few times in my life and never having had a Bat Mitzvah, I feel safe in saying technically. The overall level of observance and philosophy I adhere to puts me about three or four levels down from Reform. It’s sort of like that t-shirt, “I’m not Full-Blooded Jew, I’m Jew-ish”. That’s not exactly how this works, but you get the point; by technical religious law I’m Jewish but I suck out loud at it. Back in 2009 I wrote a little ditty about it that shared a comic strip from one of my favorite webcomics “Least I Could Do”.

Each year my husband and I would switch off with another couple, featuring another “bad Jew”, hosting a Passover seder (a special ritual dinner done for Passover with the word seder coming from the Hebrew word for order, referring to the order of the ritual). Now that my parents have moved back to the area they’ve joined into the rotation, and although not Orthodox they’re more experienced and polished with the seder observances, but they seemed to have decided to suffer us fools gladly.

As I said, the Passover meal is a ritual, to the point where you essentially use an instruction manual to guide you through the meal. It’s called a Haggadah. It helps you retell the story of Exodus, tell you what prayers to recite, sometimes they’ll suggest songs and activities, and more. There is no one Haggadah. The first year we decided to do a Passover dinner with our friends the only Haggadah he could find was some sort of “scholar’s” Haggadah, that seder took FOREVER! After that year I asked my family to get me copies of the ones we’d always used for the next gift giving occasion. And so the next year I was prepping our first year hosting Passover using “A Family Haggadah II” by Shoshana Silberman.

I had never actually sat and read the Haggadah’s commentary before, but when I did I stumbled across something that became an immediate tradition in our household and then our friend’s. The Passover table features a seder plate containing symbolic foods that are displayed and eaten during the course of the meal. (For example, bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery that the Jewish people endured in Egypt. That kind of thing.) When reading “The Seder Plate” section of Silberman’s Haggadah I found this:

Some families have adopted the custom of placing an orange on the seder plate. This originated from an incident that occurred when women were just beginning to become rabbis. Susannah Heschel, lecturing in Florida, spoke about the emerging equality of women in Jewish life. After her talk, an irate man rose and shouted, “A woman belongs on the bimah (pulpit) like an orange on the seder plate!” By placing an orange on the seder plate, we assert that women belong wherever Jews carry on a sacred life.

And so each year, despite having to look up what goes on the seder plate (Hey, I said I was a bad Jew!) I always remember I need an orange. I suppose it’s fun to feel like I’m flipping a citrusy middle finger to the narrow minded, and that’s why I liked it initially. However I think the reason it resonates with me this year, and perhaps why this year I felt compelled to share it with you (Considering this will be what, six Passovers since I’ve had this website?), is I think I needed a reminder that Judeo-Christian religions are capable of evolution and change.

In watching the news lately I have been so bombarded by religious politicians that appear to be absolutely intractable in beliefs that are growing more outdated by the minute. It is just nice to think that a religion as old as Judaism has a bunch of people putting oranges on seder plates, a ridiculous idea (If you own an actual formal seder plate there is no spot to even make an orange fit!), but they do it anyway because of what it means to them. In doing so, they share that belief with their friends and family and they carry that home with them to share with others.

In a bit of postscript, I stumbled across this info on Wikipedia:

Since the early 1980s, a custom has arisen (especially among more liberal and feminist Jews) to include an orange upon the Seder plate. This custom is often falsely explained as having arisen in response to a man who confronted a Jewish feminist who was giving a speech and opposed the right of women to become rabbis, supposedly declaring that women had as much place on the bimah as an orange had on the seder plate. However, Susannah Heschel, a Jewish scholar who began this custom, has explained it as a symbol of the fruitfulness of all Jews, including women and gay people. After hearing that some college students were placing crusts of bread on their seder plates as a protest against the exclusion of homosexuals from Judaism, Heschel substituted the fruit (originally a tangerine) on the plate instead.

If this is the true origin, it still works for me, because a person who doesn’t believe that a woman or homosexual is entitled to a fruitful life (including Jewish spirituality if they choose it) belongs at my seder dinner like an orange on the seder plate. And you can quote me on that.

Tokens of Light

It used to be all I ever saw were tarot decks; tarot decks that held pretty tight to the template set by the Universal Waite Tarot Deck. Then I noticed tarot decks that meandered off that path at times, and occasionally I saw sets of runes. Then it was oracle decks, that conformed in no way to the traditional tarot, and I saw I Ching sets. It seems for every person out there awaits a type of oracle just for them! And I’m here today to introduce you to another wonderful member of this expanding family, “Tokens of Light”.

“Tokens of Light” is subtitled “66 Paths for insights and prediction according to the Hebrew Alphabet” and it was created by Orna Ben-Shoshan. Astute readers will remember that name from back in April 2011 when I reviewed the “King Solomon Oracle Cards“. Orna was responsible for the beautiful artwork found in that deck, and I’m happy to say “Tokens of Light” is perhaps an even better space for her art.

The tokens are 66 sturdy coins (made of a slightly more sturdy stock than tarot cards). One side of the coin has its number, 1-66, (The total number of 66 was derived by using 3 different aspects of each one of the 22 Hebrew letters.) and underneath it a Hebrew letter with a serial code to which the answer relates. The other side has a beautiful Orna Ben-Shoshan illustration to help you make a visual connection with the coin. The coins come with a pretty drawstring bag to use for carrying, storage, or pulling the tokens from for readings.

You don’t need to be able to read Hebrew to use “Tokens of Light”. Thank goodness! The set comes with an interpretation booklet that gives you some ideas as to what drawing a particular coin might mean, and also some different suggested ways to use “Tokens of Light” for guidance. Despite its beautiful, mysterious, occult appearance, it’s pretty freakin’ simple to use. How about one more “Thank goodness!”?

Along with the tokens, you also get two amulet coins that are not to be included in your readings, but kept close to you. One coin contains the priestly blessing for protection and fulfillment of your wishes, and the other coin contains letter combinations taken from the “72 Names of God” that will bring balance and success to all areas of life.

“Tokens of Light” is a unique addition to the expanding landscape of oracle products. To learn more about it, visit their site.

Shalom-Nuts?

Many of you probably know, but in case you weren’t aware, yesterday was the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. This year it was our turn to host a dinner for the holiday, and so as always I turned to my well worn copy of “Fast & Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays: Complete Menus, Rituals, and Party-Planning Ideas for Every Holiday of the Year” by Marlene Sorosky. Every time I flip through her book I always come across something new, despite how many times in the past I’ve looked through the darn thing. This year, as always, her book didn’t disappoint!

Sorosky is quick to point out that traditional foods associated with Hanukkah are related to the miracle of oil. Ahhhh, the miracle of oil. Normally that makes people think of latkes, potato pancakes. We tried her Giant Potato-Carrot Latkes which were delicious and required someone to carve them at the table! However it was her mentioning doughnuts that got my attention.

I hadn’t really thought about it, but yes, fried doughnuts certainly would qualify as a food related to oil. She suggests using them to help create a Menorah centerpiece, but I thought, why couldn’t they be dessert?

Even better, I’m still on a pretty restricted diet, so instead of genuine fried doughnuts, couldn’t we use our nifty little baked griddle baby doughnut maker that our friend bought us? Jim has gotten really good at making all kinds of versions and despite the lack of frying, symbolically our dessert would be righteous. Right?

Well, I don’t know if we’ve started the next newest Hebrew craze, but I present…….

Doughnuts!

Or should they be, Shalom-nuts?

To those who celebrate, Happy Hanukkah!

10 Questions with Miguel Conner: The Other Nine Questions

Hey! Wondering why there are only nine questions instead of ten? Did you miss question one? Click here to get caught up!

2. What made you decide to start a radio show devoted to discussing Gnosticism?

Ironically, I had just been excommunicated from a Gnostic church for something I hadn’t done (I’m not a 30th level magician…only in the World of Warcraft!). At the same time, I had started listening to an Internet station called Freethoughtmedia.com, mainly an avenue for New Atheism and Humanistic issues. I was feeling isolated so I sent the owner of the station a proposal to produce a handful of shows on Gnosticism—a series of interviews that would educate as well as dispel many misunderstandings on the ancient heretics. He accepted, assuming that the enemy of his enemy was his friend. Before I knew it, I was falling down a deep rabbit hole with Alice and Sophia. And I’m still falling after four years!

3. Your book “Voices of Gnosticism” is a collection of transcripts of interviews from your show, and does a fantastic job of introducing all facets of Gnosticism to the reader. When did you realize, or what made you decide, there would be value in collecting these interviews into a book?

The idea surfaced in the vast expanse of my head and was proposed by several listeners throughout the years. A few stenographers even offered to transcribe the interviews. I never paid much attention, falling into the cynical yet neo-utopian view that less people were reading and cyberspace was the new and true Library of Alexandria. I finally took a small Red Pill when Andrew Phillip Smith approached me with a sound and lucid vision of an Aeon Byte book based my most prolific guests. Since Andrew had been a guest many times, author of several books that had influenced me, editor of The Gnostic Journal who I had written for, and owner of a publishing company, I knew he couldn’t be an Archon and was onto something. The rest is heresy.

4. As an old school music fan, who would sit and write down lyrics to songs by playing second after second on a tape player, starting and stopping, starting and stopping, I know that transcribing from audio to text can take an insanely long time. How long did it take for you to transcribe all these interviews?

It was agonizing! I hated having to think of poor Andrew spending hours transcribing each interview! I know he started with a voice recognition software, but then he got the usual ‘too’s’ instead of ‘to’s’ and so forth, while Greek words came out all Greek to him; so he eventually did it the hard way, but he did an august job. Even then, it took months of us working together to match the vocals of the interviews to the transcripts. It’s not easy getting 60+ thousand words from audio to print, let me inform you! And I would advise for anyone undertaking such a venture to make sure the publisher and author agree on whether to use UK or American English…it will save you a lot of time and headaches and bad jokes based what is considered dirty in each culture.

5. Your interviews contain a wealth of information and you do an excellent job of really getting to the heart of your interviewee’s research. How much independent research did you need to do for these interviews?

I invest large sums of time and effort with each guest, regardless of their status or how much I agree with their premises. For one, I am passionate about all subjects dealing with the occult and comparative religion. I want to learn along with my guests. Furthermore, I understand how much hard work each guest puts into their books, movies or doctrines, so why shouldn’t they get the same respect? Not only do I read their respective work for the interview, I study all of their other efforts and everything I can about the subject at hand (even if I’m comfortably familiar with it). By the time of the interview, I want to be their virtual stalker or single white female.

6. Out of all the interviews you’ve done, do you have a favorite? If so, why does it stand out for you?

Why, this is my favorite interview! Me…me…me!

7. Is it odd for you to now be interviewed? How is the transition from interviewer to interviewee working out for you?

Okay, I admit it! You’re killing me softly with your song! The hunter has become the hunted! I’ve always envisioned myself as a cyber-Socrates, except a million times dumber, midwifing truths from my guests and handing those babies to my listeners. It is my greatest hope that they can nurture these truths into viable spiritual systems that will induce higher states of consciousness.

Besides, what can I say that could ever surpass any of my astral guests who emanate themselves from their Pleromas down into Aeon Byte every week? Uh, I like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain?

8. If my readers want to learn more about Gnosticism, where do you suggest they start? I’d recommend your book “Voices of Gnosticism” and certainly the “Dictionary of Gnosticism” by Andrew Phillip Smith, who was kind enough to contribute to my website as well as write a wonderful forward for your book.

Good choice for books, I say, I say! That’s another difficult question, since ultimately Gnosticism is a very personal faith even when you do find those with the same Etch A Sketch mysticism as yours. Gnostics are always the perennial strangers in an estranged land. J. Krishnamurti once said truth is a pathless land. I like to say gnosis is a pathless labyrinth. You just don’t know exactly how the song of Sophia will strike you or what teaching of an Aeon wearing mammal skins will stimulate your Divine Spark. I certainly would suggest that if a person is interested in Gnosticism, they approach it for what it is and not for what it isn’t. Many people enter the Esoterica because they are rebelling against a former religion. They end up roleplaying instead of fully participating in the mystery, their hearts still so filled with negativity that it cannot be filled with light.

Having babbled that sermon, it goes without saying that one should either own Bentley Layton’s The Gnostic Scriptures or Marvin Meyer’s The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. Since modern Gnostics have their usual suspects they propose, I’m going to go ahead and throw a few curveballs: Elements of Gnosticism by Stuart Holroyd because it’s a concise and approachable history of the Gnostics in a little over a hundred pages; The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual & Diversity in Early Christianity by David Brakke because he takes one of the best snapshots of the rise and fall of the Gnostics; The Gnostic Religion by Hans Jonas because he reveals that the socio-political world of the Roman Empire that early Christians and Gnostics struggled in eerily parallels our modern times, and thus why the Gnostic spirit is very important today; Valis by Philip K. Dick because he captured the essence of Gnosticism and translated it into a modern context; and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll because the story of Alice is the story of Sophia is the story of each one of us.

And definitely watch The Matrix, The Truman Show, Inception, Total Recall, all at the same time and several times, while reading out loud the poetry of William Blake with a Jungian analyst sitting next to you on the couch.

Like I always say on Aeon Byte, you know you have taken the Red Pill when you start writing your own Gospel and living your own myth, as the Gnostics did throughout history even if history erased much of their wonders.

9. What’s next? Do you have any upcoming projects my readers should be aware of?

I have just released the second edition of my futuristic yet very Gnostic-themed vampire saga, Stargazer (available at Amazon!). I’m working on releasing the sequel sometime late this year or early next year. I have a couple of embryonic projects for a scholarly book on the Gnostics, and there is a good possibility Aeon Byte might go completely live soon with callers and 1-800 numbers commercials for Cialis (but I haven’t bitten completely yet). If you include the actual show, writing articles for different periodicals, and making battle plans with Sophia, I don’t even have time to look for where I put those $#%@ Red Pills.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Ah…that feels good! I can ask questions! How come you don’t have a “Gnosticism” category at the Magical Buffet? Is this some sort of prejudice? Hating on the Gnostics feels good but Yaldabaoth forbid we ruffle the feathers of Wiccans so we give them two categories, eh? Don’t think for a second that this sense of persecution is inflating my sense of self-importance! I’m pulling off my microphone and walking off the set! You’re out of order! This court is out of order! Wiccans are out of order! This whole buffet is outta order!

Alas you have caught me Miguel! The Magical Buffet has partnered up with the Wiccans in an effort to suppress information about Gnosticism ever reaching the public at large. Smart ass! You know what? I don’t feel like a jerk anymore for question number one! That’s right? I said it!

About Miguel Conner:
Miguel Conner is host of “Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio”, the only topical and guest radio show on Gnosticism and its brethren in mystical heresy, ancient and modern. He is the author of the critically acclaimed, popular, and Philip K. Dick-ish vampire epic, “The Queen of Darkness” (re-released as “Stargazer” in 2011). His articles, fiction, and reviews have appeared in such publication as “The Stygian Vortex”, “The Gnostic Journal”, “Houston Public News”, “The Extreme”, “The Cimmerian Journal”, “Examiner” and many others. He lives in the lawful dystopia of Chicago with his family, patiently waiting for the beginning of the world.

Miguel’s website is: http://www.thegodabovegod.com

Where Aeon Byte broadcasts and blog: http://www.aeonbytegnosticradio.com

Voices of Gnosticism Homepage: http://voicesofgnosticism.blogspot.com

Stargazer Novel homepage: http://stargazervampirenovel.blogspot.com

10 Questions with Miguel Conner: Question One

Indeed you’ve read the title correct my friends, this post is only question one of The Magical Buffet’s patent pending ten question interview. Why only one question today? To put it bluntly, because I’m a jerk. Here’s why….

I got an email from Miguel Conner, host of “Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio”, the only topical and guest radio show on Gnosticism. He asked if I had any interest in his new book ” Voices of Gnosticism”, to which I responded, “Hecks yeah” (or perhaps something a bit more professional). After reading the book (So good! Buy it now!), I asked if he would be willing to do a 10 questions interview for The Magical Buffet, to which he responded, “Awwwww yeah” (or perhaps something a bit more professional).

So, how does that make me a jerk? It seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement, what jerk-like qualities are there to this? Well, the very first question I asked in the interview was, “Can you define for my readers what Gnosticism is? I’ll admit that I have a difficult time trying to come up with a brief definition that makes sense to someone who has never encountered it before.”

Miguel knew it wasn’t an easy request, and I knew it too….and it’s why I asked. See? Jerk.

However, my jerk-ish question yielded a wonderful, insightful, and entertaining response….that was two pages long. Thus far I’ve never edited down an interview, and I have no intention of ever doing that, especially to such an important answer. Consider this the background for the rest of the interview. And stay tuned because the other nine answers are not to be missed!

1. Can you define for my readers what Gnosticism is? I’ll admit that I have a difficult time trying to come up with a brief definition that makes sense to someone who has never encountered it before.

Gnosticism is probably harder to define than most religions because it’s still an academic field with vast uncharted territory; and then there is the problem of wading through the oceans of romantic misinformation that both mainstream and occult faiths have drowned the Gnostic ideology in. The Gnostics also loved to push the boundaries of both theology and philosophy–even creating parodies sometimes for their amusement—to the point they shrouded themselves in a cloud of mystery (even if they were actually very open about their belief systems). One thing you can be sure of—if the ink on a scripture was barely dry, the Gnostics would rewrite it; if a mythology or religious narrative was just spoken of, the Gnostics would deconstruct and reconstruct the plot; and if a dogma was conceived, the Gnostics would immediately reinterpret it. And often all three at once!

Stevan Davies, on our interview in Voices of Gnosticism, perhaps gives the best short answer:

“Gnosticism is about discovering the way that God has turned into you, and then realizing that if you can describe how it is that God turned into you, you can reverse the process.”

In his excellent book, The Secret Book of John: Annotated & Explained, Davies further describes Gnosticism as “developmental psychology, a descriptive Middle Platonic philosophy, and a cosmic mythology all rolled into one.”

To wit, unlike most faiths that urge one to find transcendence in the now or salvation in the future, the Gnostics contended that one had to voyage deep into inner and outer origins to either correct certain spiritual traumas or find missed doorways into the timeless dimensions. They believed the greatest origin was, of course, the Godhead. I think the Gnostics would agree with Tom Robbins who wrote “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Although ancient heretics would call it being resurrected into a Christ while still in the flesh, as the Gospel of Philip states. The Gospel of Thomas also puts the Gnostic ethos in good perspective:

The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us, how will our end come?”
Jesus said, “Have you discovered the beginning, then, so that you are seeking the end? For where the beginning is the end will be. Blessed is he who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.”

Now the longer answer will be more complicated, and one has to bear in mind that there were many Gnostic schools of thought in history whose doctrines varied. Yet there is a framework that takes time to discern for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, as Jesus often declares in Gnostic scriptures.

So put on your theological seat belts, here we go:

The Gnostics posited that there was an ultimate existence beyond Heaven and Earth, a primal consciousness that detonated in awareness and rippled out in self-understanding. This Big Bang of supernal imagination and creativity is usually referred to as the Pleroma, the Eternal Realm or the Treasury of Light. The biology of the Pleroma (“fullness” in Greek) consists of Aeons, which although anthropomorphized in their mythos are better understood as modes of thought, firing synapses, or the circuitry of a transmundane motherboard. The Aeons owned such titles as Truth, Love, Forethought, Incorruptibility, etc.

At some point, there is a glitch in the divine mind, a sort of pre-Creation Creation. The severity can fall between something cute, like the Aeon Reason falling in love with and literally bungee divine into the lower realms, to an outright cosmic cataclysm, like universe imploding during God’s first attempt as portrayed in some Kabbalistic traditions. The most prominent cosmology is the fall of the Aeon Sophia (“wisdom” in Greek). The exact details vary depending on the scripture; but she commits the sin of desire, breaking from the harmony of the divine mind and thus plunging into the Void or Chaos. Sophia either becomes pregnant with or tries to hide her negative emotions. The end result is an abortion known as Yaldabaoth or the Demiurge, which the Gnostics commonly equated with the God of the Old Testament. Sophia’s unruly spawn doesn’t waste much time after inventing time, manufacturing his own Bizarro Aeons known as Archons (Greek for “rulers”, but more akin to godlike TSA-agents with very bad dispositions). Then they cut a lot of corners and take long union breaks in order to fashion this wonderful universe The true God has lost his wisdom and wisdom is lost somewhere in a galactic Kennedy airport…who you gonna call?

Whether by the effects of the celestial mind-fart in the Pleroma or by a rescue operation hatched by Sophia to redeem herself, slivers of her essence are mingled into the material world. These Divine Spark, as they are often referred to, generally are housed in humans; although some Gnostic sects believed every living and even unliving thing contained the Divine Spark. The problem is that because of the good cop/bad cop routine of Yaldabaoth and his Archons we have forgotten our ambrosial heritage. Instead of igniting our Divine Spark in order to overcome the powers of darkness and too many astral travel regulations, we have come to believe we’re just overdeveloped apes. In Gnosticism, ignorance in all its forms is considered the greatest of sins and conditions.

From an ethereal borderland, Sophia sings to our Divine Sparks to kindle bright so that we may remember where our true home lies and how to defeat Yaldabaoth. At the same time, the Pleroma sends Aeons clothed in mammal skins–Jesus Christ and Hermes Trismegistus being two of the most exalted ones–who descend into matter to remove the shackles of ignorance with their teachings. This is gnosis, which in Greek means “knowledge”, yet is more akin to a slow-burn acquaintance with the divine mind. Gnosis is taking the Red Pill. Gnosis is discovering you’re in The Truman Show and it’s time to find a more authentic reality. Gnosis is realizing you’ve been incepted and you better get out of the dream within the dream, and into complete wakefulness.

The battle lines are drawn—Sophia, the Aeons wearing mammal skins, and awoken humans on one side; the Demiurge, the archons, and ignorant humans on the other. It doesn’t get more exciting than this!

About Miguel Conner:
Miguel Conner is host of “Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio”, the only topical and guest radio show on Gnosticism and its brethren in mystical heresy, ancient and modern. He is the author of the critically acclaimed, popular, and Philip K. Dick-ish vampire epic, “The Queen of Darkness” (re-released as “Stargazer” in 2011). His articles, fiction, and reviews have appeared in such publication as “The Stygian Vortex”, “The Gnostic Journal”, “Houston Public News”, “The Extreme”, “The Cimmerian Journal”, “Examiner” and many others. He lives in the lawful dystopia of Chicago with his family, patiently waiting for the beginning of the world.

Miguel’s website is: http://www.thegodabovegod.com

Where Aeon Byte broadcasts and blog: http://www.aeonbytegnosticradio.com

Voices of Gnosticism Homepage: http://voicesofgnosticism.blogspot.com

Stargazer Novel homepage: http://stargazervampirenovel.blogspot.com

Playing Dreidel

Here it is, Hanukkah time again. Last year I shared with all of you my collection of menorahs, and sadly, that appears to be the last time Judaism was featured on The Magical Buffet. Fortunately this year I have something fun to share with all of you for the 2010 Hanukkah season…..my little dreidel collection!

A dreidel is a four sided spinning top that has a different Hebrew character on each side. It’s a game traditionally played during Hanukkah. Players start with an equal number of tokens, these can be pennies, candy, whatever. At the beginning of each round every player puts a token in the pot. Any time the pot is empty or only has one token left every one should pitch in another token. Each player takes a turn spinning the top, the dreidel, and depending on what symbol comes up determines what happens.

If you get Gimmel; you get everything in the pot.

Gimmel

If you get Hey; you get half of the pot.

Hey (Or is it Hay?)

If you get Shin; you add a token to the pot.

Shin

If you get Nun; nothing happens.

Nun

The game is over once the pot is empty.

Even as I child, each year my father would have to write down the Hebrew characters and what they meant with regards to the game. Thus it should surprise no one that I had to look up how to play to write this little article. It’s been years, many years, since I’ve played dreidel but I’ve never gotten rid of the dreidels I’ve received as gifts from family. Much like the menorahs I keep, they’re just so beautiful and so varied I’ve kept them all these years.

Happy Hanukkah!