“ A Metaphor , an Allegory and a Simile walk into a bar… “
There is a wonderful hotel in Vienna (Austria… not Alabama) called the San Souci wherein they serve arguably the world’s best breakfast. When there I like to pick and choose buffet style, mainly from fruits, meats and selections of beverages whereas other guests sit with white linen and order à la carte. Either way one’s choice creates a scurry of chefs and a rustle of pressed uniforms trying to satisfy your whim.
So how would I decide who had the ‘best’ breakfast? It’s easy to say “each for their own – that which suits you is best” but are you sure? The compiled menu is top class but will it satisfy a specific longing you may have that morning and what is ‘best’ anyway?
Approaching old texts seeking to discover meaning is a somewhat similar process of choosing between picking and combining ‘bits of this and that’ versus following the agreed menu and trusting that tradition will serve you an excellent experience.
The point of view from which we approach a text influences what we interpret as it’s ‘hidden’ meaning, and for that matter even it’s plain meaning. Take for example new scholarship providing information about the situation in which a book was written which in turn influences us to re-assess the meaning of the text itself.
The question arises for the astute reader “When I pick up this book how am I going to read it?” For most of the past 1500 years or so the Holy Bible’s readers took it as a collection of books compiled by the Holy Spirit and to be read in that understanding. This is what many call the ‘literal interpretation’ but which I choose to call the ‘compiled meaning’ – it is package to be had as it presents itself.
As I mentioned elsewhere (Why Do We Have Mysteries Anyway?) the alphabets of ancient Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew also have numerical values giving written words in those original languages a number value which can lead to a new level of interpretation. This doesn’t threaten the compiled meaning, but it does add layers of hidden association within the words. Rabbi Eleazar Chismai, writing in the second century quipped (if Holy Rabbis actually quip) that such gematria was an extra on top of Torah, not a replacement for it.
Though I’d like to avoid Kabbalah in this article it is worth noting that gematria and other techniques are not prerequisites for a deeper understanding . I have nicked from the excellent Chabadii study website the following discussion of meaning within Torah which I have slightly edited for brevity:
“In fact, the Kabbalists state that Torah has four layers corresponding to the four worlds:
1. Pshat—Simple interpretation corresponds to the world of Assiyah.
2. Remez—Allusionary interpretation corresponds to the world of Yetzirah.
3. Drush– Homiletical interpretation corresponds to the world of Beriah.
4. Sod—Secret/Mystical interpretation corresponds to the world of Atzilut.
An example is the use of the Modeh Ani prayer upon rising in the morning (“I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for you have restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is abundant.”).
The Pshat of this prayer is that we are simply thanking G-d for restoring our souls.
The Remez understanding is that this “restoration” of the soul, refers to the time of the Resurrection of the Dead.
The Drush explanation is that since G-d returns to a person the soul which was entrusted to Him (while sleeping during the night), we should not withhold an article entrusted to us from another.
Finally, the Sod interpretation states that this “restoration” of the soul, comes from the level of Malchut as it unites with the Sefirah directly above it, Yesod.”
So within this traditional Jewish understanding any text may have at least 4 layers of meaning in it’s compiled (literal) form without even resorting to other number and pattern analysis.
To hark back to the hotel breakfast allegory the ‘Buffet’ approach is common with inspired New Age authors wherein they have a pre-existent idea or inspiration and then seek text and symbolism to justify it. I do prefer this free form association technique as it links up things in new ways, but it would horrify a religious scholar trying to protect a tradition.
It also can lead one astray as I hope to show in this example:
Suppose you determine that for you the number 12 is THE mystery key and you link up the 12 tribes with the 12 disciples etc. Lots of people have done this and much theosophical literature includes this mixing and matching.
Now suppose your thinking ‘evolves’ and in your creative mixing and matching you come up with something like “since Hebrew has 22 letters that are linked to the 22 paths on the kabbalistic Tree of Life then ‘22’ is obviously the ultimate number pattern”. To validate this cosmic flash you start looking through your bible for 22 of anything. Go on, have a look…
There it is! The last book of the Bible known as Revelation or Apocalypse of St. John has 22 Chapters. Isn’t it perfect since it is a book about transformation? Cleverly you can formulate which Hebrew letter applies to which chapter in Revelation.
Yet sadly it is wrong, badly wrong. The reason is that the New Testament (in which Revelations is found) wasn’t divided into any sections at all before say the 4th Century. Only in the 13th century did Archbishop Stephen Langton developed a schema for systematic division of the Bible and it is on this system that modern chapter divisions are based.
So mixing and matching obvious patterns has risks unless you can find a layer of relevance that ties the linked values together. It’s about now that I should introduce the concept of ‘keys’ which as the name suggests unlock things, but used in this metaphysical sense means it either –
1. releases either an understanding and/or awareness hidden within an individual
2. or opens access to an area of collective knowledge usually inaccessible to most.
In the first sense the key triggers an awakening of awareness, within the second it is usually a symbol or ritual action causing altered consciousness. These keys can also universal or personal. ‘Universal’ keys can belong to and be active on everyone all through time whereas ‘specific’ keys are associated with a location, a cult or even the buried past of just one person.
This of course implies a belief in reincarnation and should you not accept that then the keys will still work but not so clearly in the individual context.
Having kept dream records for decades I don’t find having a dream like I mentioned odd nor do I expect it to be meaningless. Because of this practice I ‘get given’ cosmic pushes to do this or that quite often so keys can drop into my awareness quite easily.
However, should you wish to promote your access to your own mysteries I would recommend one or both of the following guides:
Firstly, the previously mentioned Lectio Divina – The Sacred Artiii by Christine Painter. This skill will tie your intuition to your symbolic deep memory allowing you to receive guided access to deeper meanings in almost any written work.
Secondly an old book called Astral Doorways by J. H. Brennaniv. This technique allows you to access the meaning behind a symbol. With it any number of mysteries can be attuned to and the meaning received.
The first type of keys , those that release an understanding and/or awareness hidden within an individual are usually triggered by a life experience. This means that you and the key come together in some situation. This need not be a conscious recognition of a key as a key, just a conscious awakening to a new awareness or functionality.
Long ago, say 500 years, you wouldn’t have had much chance of experiencing anything different to your parents. Social change was measured in the rise and fall of kingdoms, not of commoners finishing their PhD. Offerings of education was tied to being wealthy and/or in the church and firstborn’s who survived the black death had more rights than all the rest. In the struggle of warfare, some ravaging countries on and off for a 100 years and killing most of the locals, through supporting children and leading them to a better life you would have learnt (and embedded in your deep memory) values and skills.
These values and skills are still buried in you today, but you need a key to awaken these inherent aptitudes. Similarly other skills and aptitudes come from God knows (literally) how many lives, and which may seem so unimportant in the retelling, are buried in you waiting for the Key to activate them.
In my country (Australia) where we are the most mobile urbanized population, many of us go through lives of ‘stages’. Just as people can be serially monogamous so our lives can be serially ‘Chaptered’. The stages, usually of about seven years, mark periods where we awaken a key long buried from some past life.
You may well ask “Why me? What have the stages of my life got to do with anything?”
That’s exactly the point… it’s not about ‘you’. At least not about the here and now person clicking computer keys and hoping for meaning. It’s about what that person can do with a package of skills and sensitivities in a future that may need him or her to touch/change/heal/support/protest or whatever.
In a divine way you are the truck carrying the freight of eternity.
i See Wikipedia, topic gematria
iii Painter, Christine: Lectio Divina – The Sacred Art. Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, United States, 27 May 2011 ISBN10 1594733007 ISBN13 9781594733000
iv Brennan, J H: Astral Doorways. Thoth Publications, 1996, Loughborough, UK, ISBN: 10 1870450213, ISBN: 13 9781870450218