The Pokey Finger of God

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Magic in the Bible

January 12th, 2006 · No Comments · ritual

A long time ago, before folks had popes or corporate arbiters of to consult on matters of the spirit, they were a little more cavalier about seeking personal gnosis. We do ourselves few favors today to assume that the patriarchs and heroes of the would have suffered the same circumscription of their spiritual life that most folks today accept as “civilized”.

When we read the Abraham or Moses set up an altar near some trees or at the base of one hill or another, we forget that they didn’t just download the instructions from www.yahweh.com or trace the blueprints out of the Book of Common Prayer. The characters in the Bible, especially in the Genesis stories, were participants in a form of direct spirituality that we today associate with Western mystical and alchemical traditions. We need to remember that if these characters didn’t make up the rituals we know of on the spot, that they were repeating something they had seen their grandfather or a distant neighbor do.

The act of setting up an altar, the creative act of establishing sacred space, is an overt, magical act. Performance of such an act comes with the expectation that specific other acts or results will occur from the creation of the altar. The intention of creating an altar is what distinguishes it from any other pile of rocks. The historical remembrance that it was an altar created and not “art” or “hobby” echoes the original intention.

Creation of an altar is not the first step in the development of religion. Only after a relationship has initiated with divinity and some experience has been had with such divinity would the creation of an altar be appropriate. Abram did not emerge from Ur naked of religious bias and experience. Frankly, I’m not convinced that Abram did anything theologically novel. There’s certainly room to argue any number of things regarding which deity was actually represented in the “original” story (as there were probably quite a number of original stories). What is clear is that technology to access divinity was available back to the furthest reaches of pre-history. The Bible doesn’t address issues regarding the origins of man’s relationship to divinity, but instead presumes that such had always been a part of individual make-up and social fabric.

If one reads the stories of the patriarchs with the context that they were doling out a slightly older version of the modern Christianity you’re familiar with, you miss out on a lot of the magic inherent in the Bible. If we recognize that these guys were doing something very different from what we usually expect to see in a church today, we can start to see these guys also had a very different relationship with their gods. Piecing together what that relationship was from the few clues we have left leads to some very interesting revelations.


I’ll be presenting a six-week series on “Magic in the Bible” at the Grover St. Unitarian Church starting in mid February. Watch for more information on this exciting new lecture and discussion series coming soon.

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