Marc Gafni on The Lion Of Fire
The Lion of Fire
The best way to behold such mysteries is through the gleaming prism of story. Thus we begin with a spell-binding ancient text which sits at the core of the mystery tradition. This esoteric tale describes an extraordinary scene which takes place in Jerusalem in roughly 500 BCE, almost two centuries before Plato and Aristotle,
The masters of the day were distressed. Adultery was spreading rampant as plagues among the people. The authorities were at a loss as to how to curb this powerful drive. Finally, driven to desperation, they began to pray. For three days, they fasted, weeping and pleading with God, “Let us slay the sexual drive[i] before it slays us.”
Finally God acquiesced. The masters then witnessed a lion of fire leap out from within the Temple’s Holy of Holies. A prophet among them identified the lion as the personification of the primal sexual drive.
They sought to slay the lion of fire. But the result was that for three days thereafter the entire society ground to a standstill. Hens did not lay eggs, artists ceased creating, businesses faltered, and all spiritual activity[ii] came to a halt.
Realizing that the sexual drive was about more than just sex, that it somehow echoed with the divine, the masters relented. They prayed that only its destructive shadow be removed, while retaining its creative force. Their request was denied on high with the insightful psychological response,“You cannot have only half a drive.” The greater the sacred power of a quality, the greater its shadow; the two are inseparable. So they prayed that the lion at least be weakened, and their prayer was granted. The lion, less potent but no less present, re-entered the Holy of Holies.
The text is alive with myth, magic and mystery. The most startling revelation is the radical claim of the text as to the originating place of the sexual drive. Why does this drive, personified as a lion of fire, emerge from the Temple’s Holy of Holies? Apparently this is its eternal abode. Thus, remarkably, the text is telling us that the seat and source of the sexual drive is none other than the Holy of Holies.
According to Marc Gafni in Mystery of Love “The fact the Holy of Holies is often depicted in the mystical sources as the marriage bed. The tablets and the ark are depicted respectively as the phallus and the vagina or the clitoris. This sexual model of eros and the virtual identity between the erotic and the holy are perhaps the most vital and provocative insights of the kabbalists. They teach it implicitly in a thousand different ways in their writings. They would rarely say it overtly for fear the message would be misunderstood, leading to a kind of sexual anarchy which would bring in its wake the collapse of family.”
So the dominant impression we are left with is that while sex is good, as it is created by God, it is exceedingly dangerous and is to be handled with great caution. One gets the impression that the attendant dangers may even override the essential good. Thus, nothing as audacious as the secret of the cherubs was written about openly. And, yet, once you see it you realize it is there, subtly calling out, whispering from the folds of literally hundreds of texts.
Sex in the temple!? Sexually entwined cherubs atop the ark, and a fiery feline sexual drive living in the Holy of Holies? What are these mythic images trying to express? At first blush they seem to describe sex as a central preoccupation of the Holy of Holies, portraying the Temple as some kind of ancient Hebrew Playboy mansion. While Hebrew mysticism may wholeheartedly embrace a positive and healthy sexual ethic, one would not have thought that sex is the essence of the sacred!!
The answer lies in the story itself. Find out more at Marc Gafni – Mystery Of Love
[i] yetzir harah* –
in the sense of Do not turn (Tifnu) after idols…The word turning is but an extension of the Hebrew word Face – Turning as in the Turning of the face;—Do not turn after foreign Gods
..and if you do…God will hide his face from you .. cite As a result of the sin of idolatry – that is to say the the betrayal of face implicit in the turning to idolatry will in a loss of face…Face as we will shall soon see is the key concept in defining both the Temple and the cherubs.
[ii] In the reading of the Maggid of Mezeritch that Beita BeKutc
aphors and galut notes pp 34 and ninety two from SS and enchantment bed on image of Ulysses’ marriage bed-
[iii] cite source in Libes from Messiah of Zohar articl
e pp 194 s
e[iii] see for example passage in Idra Zuta which describes the death of Rashbi. There the tablets are phallic and the Ark is vaiginal.
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