Friday, June 17, 2011

Major Events in Jewish Mysticism

Major Events in Jewish Mysticism
Year in BCE or CE

700 BCE
The Torah rediscovered by Josiah, King of Judah in Solomon's Temple.

6th century BCE- 1 CE
Second Temple period, first mystical beliefs formed under the name "Work of the Chariot" based on Ezekiel's vision of G-d's chariot.

5th Century BCE
Square Script adapted as preferred script for the writing of Torah scrolls.

200 BCE
Mystic scholars live in Qumran, which is now Jordon.

1 CE
Mystic tradition largely focuses on visionary experiences from the Hebrew Bible.

2 CE
Rabbi Akiva and his successor Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai have written treatise.
5th Century CE Rediscovery of Sefer ha Yetzirah, The Book of Creation legend says it was written by Abraham.

6th century CE
Rabbi Akiva's followers continue to study mystic tradition, including the model for the four rabbis who experienced the divine while living

939-1038 CE
Emphasis on out of body experiences according to the school of Hai Gaon. Unlike Akiva they focused on altered mental state.

11th Century
Solomon Ibn Gabirol names the tradition Kabbalah, Bachaya ben Joseph Ibn Pakuda writes The Book of Directions to the Duties of the Heart, believes in then "gates" of seeking G-d.

Spanish Kabbalist Moses de Leon brings the ancient traditions together with the current and creates The Zoharor Book of Splendor

13th century
Abraham Abulafia, a radical Kabbalist opens the practice to include Jewish women and gentiles. Considered precursor to "liberal" Kabbalah

15th-16th century
Kabbalists settle in Sefed, the Holy Land, calling themselves Chevarim (friends) under the leadership of Moses Cordovero

Kabbalah reaches its peak under the leadership of Isaac Luria, called the Ari (Lion). He devised a set of group meditations including instruction for breathing.

I used a variety of resources to put this timeline together. If you are interested, send me a message and I can give you a list of some of the probable ones I used. This was compiled about five years ago

Note: BCE=Before Common Era (scholarly form of BC)
CE=Common Era (scholarly for AD)

The Pheonix in Fading Summer

Somehow, I lost this poem. But I always intended it for the lovely shire of Shire of Rokeclif, Northshield, in La Crosse. Much love to that fair place.

For many long year the Pheonix has grown
And watched o’er the people here
Alas in the fading summer
For then, the Phoenix must die.

He has exploded with wings
And guarded the shire,
Full of love for the people below,
Alas that he must die.

His cries can be heard in the heartbeat of the people,
On the Fierce wings of Roacklif’s song
People he loves, and people he guards
For the will that he holds, but now he builds his pire.

When at last he lays down his head
The summer is at end,
And people gather in the Hall,
He sheds a tear as he vanishes in the ash and fire.

But anon, here he comes
In vibrant light!
Rekindled by the beacons of flame.
And that’s how the Phoenix lives!

A toast to the people of the Phoenix,
For his gift was the Autumn Rose,
For the day that he rose from the ashes—
He cried tears from which spring a rose.

Morley's Barley: It's More than Soup!

Now Is the Month of Maying
Lyrics by Sir Thomas Morley, Published, 1595,

Now is the month of Maying, when merry lads are playing!
Fa la la la la!
Each with his bonny lass, upon the greeny grass
fa la la la la!
The Spring, clad all in gladness, doth laugh at Winter's sadness!
Fa la la la la!
And to the bagpipes’ sound, the nymphs tread out the ground!
Fa la la la la!
Fie! Then why sit we musing, youth’s sweet delight refusing?
Fa la la la la!
Say, dainty nymphs and speak! Shall we play barley break?
Fa la la la la!

A brief study of the quaint phrase in the song Now is the Month of Maying." Say, dainty nymphs and speak! Shall we play barley break?"The song is a light-hearted one about the return of spring. Most of the lyrics are still easily understood today, apart from that last line. Since this issue at hand this month is springtime fun,
I thought to examine "barley break" and discovered it was a game along the same lines as "Red Rover" and amongst children it could be very innocent.  Among adults playing for flirtation however, the connotation is a bit different, akin to "a roll in the hay".

How to play "Barley Break" also called "Last Couple in Hell"¹

You need:
  •     Three male-female pairs
  •     A game field divided in three
There should be one couple standing on the right side of the field, one couple standing on the left side of the field and the remaining couple standing in the middle (Hell)

The Object of the Game:

The middle couple in “Hell” tries to catch the others as they run past so that they have to be in Hell. That couple use their clasped hands to catch the others. If caught,
that couple goes to the middle of the field.

The game was well known enough to be mentioned in The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. In Act Four, Scene 3 the Jailer's Daughter says “Faith, I'll tell you: sometime we go to barley-break, we of the blessed."

According to Gerald Massey, Sonnet 144 is all about this very game, proving its popularity and widespread usage.²

SONNET 144 by William Shakespeare
Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill.
To win me soon to hell*, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turn'd fiend
Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell:
Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

From all that, in can be inferred that "Barley break" can be an innocent children's game or an adult game of flirtation and a metaphor for being captured by love. 


¹  Suzanne Lord  Music from the age of Shakespeare: a cultural history‎ (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2003), 156.

² Gerald Massey. The Secret Drama of Shakespeare's Sonnets 1888 Edition..
( (accessed 3/30/2010) 134-137.