The Talmud Is Finally Now Available Online

In South Korea, where I live, the Talmud is a bestseller. Just a few years ago the New Yorker's Ross Armud reported on the improbable publishing success, in this small east Asian country, of Judaism's "dense compilation of oral laws annotated with rabbinical discussions, consisting of about two and a half million words." Some of those words dealing with such pressing questions as, "If you find a cake with a pottery shard in it, can you keep it? Do you have to report the discovery of a pile of fruit? What do you do if you find an item built into the wall of your house?"

The much shorter "Korean Talmud," Armud writes, with its parables, aphorisms, and topics that run the gamut "from business ethics to sex advice," makes a reader feel like "the last player in a game of telephone." But Joshua Foer, the science writer who co-founded Atlas Obscura, might say that the Jewish Talmud has long left even Jewish readers in a similar state of befuddlement — if, indeed, they could find the text at all. Looking to get a handle on the Talmud himself back in 2010, he found that, shockingly, the internet had almost nothing to offer him. And so he began working, alongside an ex-Google engineer collaborator named Brett Lockspeiser, to correct that absence.




"Last year, after years of work and negotiations, Foer and Lockspeiser finally succeeded in their quest," writes the Washington Post's Noah Smith. "Through a nonprofit they created called Sefaria, the men are bringing the Talmud online in modern English, and free of charge." Sefaria's library, available on the web as well as in app form, now includes a variety of texts from Genesis and the Kabbalah to philosophy and modern works — and of course the Talmud, the centerpiece of the collection, the relevant resources for which had not been in the public domain and thus required no small amount of negotiation to make free.

Sefaria's creators have combined all this with a feature called "source sheets," which allow "any user on the site to compile and share a selection of relevant texts, from Sefaria or outside, surrounding a given issue or question." (Smith points to the most popular source sheet thus far, "Is One Permitted to Punch a White Supremacist in the Face?") At about 160 million words with 1.7 million intertextual links and counting, the site has made a greater volume of Jewish texts far more accessible than ever before. Readers, even non-Orthodox ones, have been discovering them in English, but if Sefaria wants to increase their traffic further still, they might consider uploading some Korean translations as well.

via Kottke

Related Content:

Ancient Israel: A Free Online Course from NYU

Introduction to the Old Testament: A Free Yale Course

Introduction to New Testament History and Literature: A Free Yale Course

Harvard Presents Two Free Online Courses on the Old Testament

Harvard Launches a Free Online Course to Promote Religious Tolerance & Understanding

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

When Aldous Huxley, Dying of Cancer, Left This World Tripping on LSD, Experiencing “the Most Serene, the Most Beautiful Death” (1963)

The “spiritual adepts” of Tibet’s modern period, writes Huston Smith in his comprehensive introduction to the Bardo Thodol, or “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”, “were inner-world adventurers of the highest daring, the Tibetan equivalent of our astronauts—I think it is worth coining the term ‘psychonaut’ to describe them. They personally voyaged to the furthest frontiers of that universe which their society deemed vital to explore: the inner frontiers of consciousness itself, in all its transformations in life and beyond death.”

Western modernity—its energies focused entirely on shaping, subduing, and expropriating the material world—did not begin to take such complex inner journeys seriously until the 20th century. When it did, it did so largely through the popular influence of pioneers like Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary, who introduced the inner journey through a syncretism of Eastern spirituality, Indigenous religious practices, and psychotropic drug use—something of an accelerated course to the frontiers of consciousness for those who had failed for so long to investigate its limits.

Huxley’s first psychedelic experience, described in his 1953 The Doors of Perception, “was in no sense revolutionary,” he wrote, in that he did not, as he had expected, experience “a world of visions” like those in the Bardo or the writings of William Blake. On the other hand, he describes a shift in consciousness in exactly the terms spiritual practitioners use to talk about enlightenment. He references Meister Eckhart’s Istigkeit or “Is-ness”—“a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being.” He uses words like “grace” and “transfiguration” and refers to D.T. Suzuki’s essay “’What is the Dharma-Body of the Buddha?’”—“another way of saying Mind, Suchness, the Void, the Godhead.”

His faith in this experience persisted to the end of his life. It was, for him, an initiation, a “great change… in the realm of objective fact.” So profound were Huxley’s experiments with psychedelic drugs that on his deathbed ten years later, he requested that his wife Laura inject him with 100 micrograms of LSD. In the short video up top, Laura remembers the day, the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And in the letter above, which you can read in full at Letters of Note, she describes Huxley’s last days in vivid detail to Huxley's brother Julian and his wife Juliette.

According to Laura, Huxley struggled in his last two months to accept the fact that he was dying of cancer. She read to him, she writes, “the entire manual of Dr. Leary extracted from The Book of the Dead.” Huxley reminded her that Leary used the manual to guide people through their acid trips, and that “he would bring people, who were not dead, back here to this life after the session.” After several painful days, however, he came to terms, “all of a sudden,” and made out his will. Laura had already consulted with Sidney Cohen, “a psychiatrist who had been one of the leaders in the use of LSD” and learned that Cohen had given the drug to two dying patients; “in one case it had brought up a sort of reconciliation with Death, and in the other case it did not make any difference.”

After she had offered it to Huxley several times over those two months, he finally wrote out his instructions to her for the dosage. She injected it herself, then, a few hours later, gave him another 100 micrograms. As he died, under the effects of what she calls his “moksha medicine,” Laura coached him “towards the light” as the Bardo counsels. “Willing and consciously you are going, willingly and consciously, and you are doing this beautifully; you are doing this so beautifully.” After several hours, Huxley died.

These five people all said that this was the most serene, the most beautiful death. Both doctors and nurse said they had never seen a person in similar physical condition going off so completely without pain and without struggle.

We will never know if all this is only our wishful thinking, or if it is real, but certainly all outward signs and the inner feeling gave indication that it was beautiful and peaceful and easy.

You can hear Laura discuss Huxley’s LSD-assisted death in much more detail in a conversation here with Alan Watts, who calls it a “highly intelligent form of dying.” In her letter, she defies the judgment that Huxley’s use of psychedelic drugs, in life and death, was irresponsible or escapist. “It is true we will have some people saying that he was a drug addict all his life and that he ended as one,” she writes, “but it is history that Huxleys stop ignorance before ignorance can stop Huxleys.” Indeed, in the same year that Aldous died, his brother Julian—the renowned evolutionary biologist—published an article called “Psychometabilism” in the second issue of The Psychedelic Review, the research journal co-founded by Leary.

“In psychedelic drugs,” wrote Julien, “we have a remarkable opportunity for interesting research.” Likewise, he argued, “mysticism is another psychometabolic activity which needs much further research… some mystics have certainly obtained results of great value and importance: they have been able to achieve an interior state of peace and strength which combines profound tranquility and high psychological energy.” In his informal, literary way, Aldous Huxley conducted such studies with himself as the subject, and wrote of the results and possibilities in books like The Doors of Perception and Island.

A few years after Aldous Huxley's death, the US and UK governments banned the kind of psychedelic research Julien recommended, but it has recently become a serious object of scientific study once again, and thanks to the reporting, and experimenting, of writers like Michael Pollan, Westerners may soon once again use psychedelics to take the inner journeys our culture does its best to discourage and denigrate.

Related Content:

How to Use Psychedelic Drugs to Improve Mental Health: Michael Pollan’s New Book, How to Change Your Mind, Makes the Case

Watch The Bicycle Trip: An Animation of The World’s First LSD Trip Which Took Place on April 19, 1943

Artist Draws 9 Portraits While on LSD: Inside the 1950s Experiments to Turn LSD into a “Creativity Pill”

Alan Watts Explains Why Death is an Art, Adventure and Creative Act

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Experience the Mystical Music of Hildegard Von Bingen: The First Known Composer in History (1098 – 1179)

The German abbess, visionary, mystic poet, composer, and healer Hildegard von Bingen “has become a symbol to disparate groups,” writes Brian Wise at WQXR, including “feminists and theologians, musicologists and new-age medicine practitioners. Her chants have been set to techno rhythms; her writings on nutrition have yielded countless cookbooks (even though she never left behind a single recipe.)” She did leave behind an astounding body of work that has made her improbably popular for a 12th century nun, with a lively presence on Facebook and her own Twitter account, @MysticHildy (“very into technology, love to travel”).

Her fame rests not only on the beauty of her work, but on her extraordinary life story and the fact that she is the first composer to whose work we can put a name. She was born in 1098 in Bermersheim, the tenth child of a noble family. It being the custom then to dedicate a tenth child (a “tithe”) to the church, Hildegard was sent to the Monastary of Saint Disibodenberg to become a Benedictine nun under the tutelage of Jutta, a highly-respected anchoress. “After Jutta’s death,” notes Fordham University’s sourcebook, “when Hildegard was 38 years of age, she was elected the head of the budding convent living within cramped walls of the anchorage.”

Throughout her life, Hildegard had experienced visions, beginning at the age of 3. (Oliver Sacks attributed these to migraines). At age 42, she had a powerful experience that radically changed her life. She described this moment in her writings:

And it came to pass ... when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming... and suddenly I understood of the meaning of expositions of the books...

Overwhelmed, and fearful of writing down her visions “because of doubt and a low opinion of myself and because of diverse sayings of men,” she nonetheless found encouragement from leaders in the church to write and circulate her theological work: “With papal imprimatur, Hildegard was able to finish her first visionary work Scivias (“Know the Ways of the Lord”) and her fame began to spread through Germany.” Soon after, she relocated her convent to Bingen, and began an incredibly productive period in the last few decades of her life.

All told, she turned out an “extraordinary array of creative treasures,” writes Wise: a drama in verse, “more than 70 musical works, medical texts filled with 2,000 remedies, writings presenting feminine archetypes for the divine.” Although she held to orthodox doctrine, opposing the Cathars, for example, and other “schismatics,” she was a mystic whose ideas far exceeded the cramped theological confines of so many male counterparts. “Hildegard’s visions caused her to see humans as ‘living sparks’ of God’s love, coming from God as daylight comes from the sun,” writes Fr. Don Miller. “This unity was not apparent to many of her contemporaries.”

Her transcendent sight did not blind her to the diverse beauty of the natural world. “She not only had faith,” says German director and actress Margarethe Von Trotta, who made a 2010 biopic about Hildegard, “but she was so curious. Today, perhaps she would have been a scientist because she did so much research on healing people, on plants and animals.” Hildegard’s talent, intellect, and forceful personality made her a formidable person, “the only known female figure of her time,” writes Music Academy Online, “who achieved such intellectual stature and whose contributions have had lasting impact.” The revived interest in her music coincided with “the ‘new age’ chant craze in the mid-1990s,” but Hildegard’s work differs markedly from medieval chant written for male voices.

Varying from “highly syllabic to dramatic melismas (swirling melodies on a single open syllable,” Melanie Spiller explains, “her music is quite distinctive and easily recognizable, with unsual elements for the time, including exceeding an octave by a fourth or fifth, and large and frequent leaps.” Her music also functioned as “a vehicle for her own mystical experience,” and it continues to move listeners—of faith and no faith—who hear in her song celebrations of the divinely feminine and the wonders of the natural world.

Related Content:

1200 Years of Women Composers: A Free 78-Hour Music Playlist That Takes You From Medieval Times to Now

A YouTube Channel Completely Devoted to Medieval Sacred Music: Hear Gregorian Chant, Byzantine Chant & More

Mashup Weaves Together 57 Famous Classical Pieces by 33 Composers: From Bach to Wagner

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How William S. Burroughs Embraced, Then Rejected Scientology, Forcing L. Ron Hubbard to Come to Its Defense (1959-1970)

Image by Christiaan Tonnis, via Wikimedia Commons

William S. Burroughs was a cultural prism. Through him, the mid-century demi-monde of illicit drug use and marginalized sexualities—of occult beliefs, alternative religions, and bizarre conspiracy theories—was refracted on the page in experimental writing that inspired everyone from his fellow Beats to the punks of later decades to name-your-countercultural-touchstone of the past fifty years or so. There are many such people in history: those who go to the places that most fear to tread and send back reports written in language that alters reality. To quote L. Ron Hubbard, another writer who purported to do just that, “the world needs their William Burroughses.”

And Burroughs, so it appears, needed L. Ron Hubbard, at least for most of the sixties, when the writer became a devout follower of the Church of Scientology. The sci-fi-inspired “new religious movement” that needs no further introduction proved irresistible in 1959 when Burroughs met John and Mary Cooke, two founding members of the church who had been trying to recruit Burroughs’ friend and frequent artistic partner Brion Gysin. “Ultimately,” writes Lee Konstantinou at io9, “it was Burroughs, not Gysin, who explored the Church that L. Ron Hubbard built. Burroughs took Scientology so seriously that he became a 'Clear' and almost became an 'Operating Thetan.'"




Burroughs immersed himself without reservation in the practices and principles of Scientology, writing letters to Allen Ginsberg that same year in which he recommends his friend “contact [a] local chapter and find an auditor. They do the job without hypnosis or drugs, simply run the tape back and forth until the trauma is wiped off. It works. I have used the method—partially responsible for recent changes.” No doubt Burroughs had his share of personal trauma to overcome, but he also found Scientology especially conducive to his greater creative project of countering “the Reactive Mind… an ancient instrument of control designed to stultify and limit the potential for action in a constructive or destructive direction.”

The method of “auditing” gave Burroughs a good deal of material to work with in his fiction and filmmaking experiments. He and Gysin included Scientology's language in a short 1961 film called “Towers Open Fire,” which was, writes Konstantinou, “designed to show the process of control systems breaking down.” Scientology appeared in 1962’s The Ticket That Exploded and again in 1964’s Nova ExpressEach novel references the concept of “engrams,” which Burroughs succinctly defines as “traumatic material.” During this hugely productive period, the radically anti-authoritarian Burroughs “associated the group with a range of mind-expanding and mind-freeing practices.”

It's easy to say Burroughs uncritically partook of a certain sugary beverage. But he clearly made his own idiosyncratic uses of Scientology, incorporating it within the syncretic constellation of references, practices, and cut-up techniques “designed to jam up what he called ‘the Reality Studio,’ aka the everyday, conditioned, mind-controlled reality.” An inevitable turning point came, however, in 1968, as Burroughs journeyed deeper into Scientology’s secret order at the world headquarters in Saint Hill Manor in the UK. There, he reported, he “had to work hard to suppress or rationalize his persistently negative feelings toward L. Ron Hubbard during auditing sessions.”

Burroughs’ dislike of the church’s founder and extreme aversion to “what he considered its Orwellian security protocols” eventuated his break with Scientology, which he undertook gradually and publicly in a series of “bulletins” published during the late sixties in the London magazine Mayfair. Before his "clearing course" with Hubbard, in a 1967 article excerpted and republished as a pamphlet by the church itself, Burroughs praises Scientology and its founder, and claims that “there is nothing secret about Scientology, no talk of initiates, secret doctrines, or hidden knowledge.”

By 1970, he had made an about-face, in a fiercely polemical essay titled “I, William Burroughs, Challenge You, L. Ron Hubbard,” published in the Los Angeles Free Press. While he continues to value some of the benefits of auditing, Burroughs declares the church’s founder “grandiose” and “fascist” and lays out his objections to its initiations, secret doctrines, and hidden knowledge, among other things:

…One does not simply pay the tuitions, obtain the materials and study. Oh no. One must JOIN. One must ‘sign up for the duration of the universe’ (Sea Org members are required to sign a billion-year contract)…. Furthermore whole categories of people are automatically excluded from training and processing and may never see Mr Hubbard’s confidential materials.

Burroughs challenges Hubbard to “show his confidential materials to the astronauts of inner space,” including Gysin, Ginsberg, and Timothy Leary; to the “students of language like Marshall MacLuhan and Noam Chompsky" [sic]; and to “those who have fought for freedom in the streets: Eldridge Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael, Abe Hoffman, Dick Gregory…. If he has what he says he has, the results should be cataclysmic.”

The debate continued in the pages of Mayfair when Hubbard published a lengthy and blandly genial reply to Burroughs’ challenge, in an article that also contained, in an inset, a brief rebuttal from Burroughs. The debate will surely be of interest to students of the strange history of Scientology, and it should most certainly be followed by lovers of Burroughs’ work. In the process of embracing, then rejecting, the controlling movement, he compellingly articulates a need for “unimaginable extensions of awareness" to deal with the trauma of living on what he calls the "sinking ship" of planet Earth.

via io9

Related Content:

William S. Burroughs Tells the Story of How He Started Writing with the Cut-Up Technique

When William S. Burroughs Appeared on Saturday Night Live: His First TV Appearance (1981)

Hear a Great Radio Documentary on William S. Burroughs Narrated by Iggy Pop

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Mister Rogers Accepts a Lifetime Achievement Award, and Helps You Thank Everyone Who Has Made a Difference in Your Life

Television host and children’s advocate Fred Rogers was also an ordained Presbyterian minister, for whom spiritual reflection was as natural and necessary a part of daily life as his vegetarianism and morning swims.

His quiet personal practice could take a turn for the public and interactive, as he demonstrated from the podium at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1997, above.

Accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award, he refrained from running through the standard laundry list of thanks. Instead he invited the audience to join him in spending 10 seconds thinking of the people who “have loved us into being.”




He then turned his attention to his wristwatch as hundreds of glamorously attired talk show hosts and soap stars thought of the teachers, relatives, and other influential adults whose tender care, and perhaps rigorous expectations, helped shape them.

(Play along from home at the 2:15 mark.)

Ten seconds may not seem like much, but consider how often we deploy emojis and “likes” in place of sitting with others’ feelings and our own.

Of all the things Fred Rogers was celebrated for, the time he allotted to making others feel heard and appreciated may be the greatest.

Fifteen years after his death, the Internet ensures that he will continue to inspire us to be kinder, try harder, listen better.

That effect should quadruple when Morgan Neville's Mister Rogers documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor? is released next month.

Another sweet Emmy moment comes at the top, when the honoree smooches his wife, Joanne Rogers, before heading off to join presenter Tim Robbins at the podium. Described in Esquire as “hearty and almost whooping in (her) forthrightness,” the stalwart Mrs. Rogers appeared in a handful of episodes, but never played the sort of highly visible role Mrs. Claus inhabited within her husband’s public realm.

The full text of Mister Rogers’ Lifetime Achievement Award award speech is below:

So many people have helped me to come here to this night.  Some of you are here, some are far away and some are even in Heaven.  All of us have special ones who loved us into being.  Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.  10 seconds, I'll watch the time. Whomever you've been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they have made.  You know they're kind of people television does well to offer our world.  Special thanks to my family, my friends, and my co-workers in Public Broadcasting and Family Communications, and to this Academy for encouraging me, allowing me, all these years to be your neighbor.  May God be with you.  Thank you very much.

via Mental Floss

Related Content:

Watch a Marathon Streaming of All 856 Episodes of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, and the Moving Trailer for the New Documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Mister Rogers Turns Kids On to Jazz with Help of a Young Wynton Marsalis and Other Jazz Legends (1986)

Mister Rogers, Sesame Street & Jim Henson Introduce Kids to the Synthesizer with the Help of Herbie Hancock, Thomas Dolby & Bruce Haack

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this Wednesday, May 16, for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

John Lennon Extols the Virtues of Transcendental Meditation in a Spirited Letter Written to a Beatles Fan (1968)

An Indian guru travels to the West with teachings of enlightenment, world peace, and liberation from the soul-killing materialist grind. He attracts thousands of followers, some of them wealthy celebrities, and founds a commercial empire with his teachings. No, this isn’t the story of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the head of the religious movement in Wild Wild Country. There was no miraculous city in the Oregon wilds or fleet of Learjets and Rolls Royces. No stockpile of automatic weapons, planned assassinations, or mass poisonings. Decades before those strange events, another teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi inspired mass devotion among students around the world with the peaceful practice of Transcendental Meditation.

Rolling Stone’s Claire Hoffman—who grew up in a TM community—writes of the movement with ambivalence. For most of his disciples, he was a “Wizard of Oz-type character,” she says, distant and mysterious. But much of what we popularly know about TM comes from its most famous adherents, including Jerry Seinfeld, Katy Perry, David Lynch, the Beach Boys, and, of course, The Beatles, who famously traveled to India in 1968, meditated with Mia Farrow, Donovan, and Mike Love, and wrote some of their wildest, most inventive music after a creative slump following the huge success of Sgt. Pepper’s.




“They stayed in Rishikesh,” writes Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, “a small village in the foothills of the Himalayas, considered the capital of yoga. Immersed in this peaceful community and nurtured by an intensive daily meditation practice, the Fab Four underwent a creative growth spurt—the weeks at Rishikesh were among their most fertile songwriting and composing periods, producing many of the songs on The White Album and Abbey Road.” Unlike most of the Maharishi’s followers, The Beatles got a personal audience. The Indian spiritual teacher “helped them through the shock” of their manager Brian Epstein’s death, and helped them tap into cosmic consciousness without LSD.

They left on a sour note—there were allegations of impropriety, and Lennon, being Lennon, got a bit nasty, originally writing The White Album's “Sexy Sadie” with the lyrics “Maharishi—what have you done? You made a fool of everyone.” But before their falling out with TM’s founder, before even the trip to India, all four Beatles became devoted meditators, sitting for two twenty-minute sessions a day and finding genuine peace and happiness—or “energy,” as Lennon and Harrison describe it in a 1967 interview with David Frost. The next year, happily practicing, and feverishly writing, in India, Lennon received letters from fans, and responded with enthusiasm.

In answer to a letter from a fan named Beth, evidently a devout Christian and apparently threatened by TM and concerned for the bands' immortal souls, Lennon wrote the following (see his handwritten reply at the top):

Dear Beth:

Thank you for your letter and your kind thoughts. When you read that we are in India searching for peace, etc, it is not that we need faith in God or Jesus — we have full faith in them; it is only as if you went to stay with Billy Graham for a short time — it just so happens that our guru (teacher) is Indian — and what is more natural for us to come to India — his home. He also holds courses in Europe and America — and we will probably go to some of these as well — to learn — and to be near him.

Transcendental meditation is not opposed to any religion — it is based on the basic truths of all religions — the common denominator. Jesus said: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” — and he meant just that — “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” — not in some far distant time — or after death — but now.

Meditation takes the mind down to that level of consciousness which is Absolute Bliss (Heaven) and through constant contact with that state — “the peace that surpasses all understanding” — one gradually becomes established in that state even when one is not meditating. All this gives one actual experience of God — not by detachment or renunciation — when Jesus was fasting etc in the desert 40 days & nights he would have been doing some form of meditation — not just sitting in the sand and praying — although me it will be a true Christian — which I try to be with all sincerity — it does not prevent me from acknowledging Buddha — Mohammed — and all the great men of God. God bless you — jai guru dev.

With love,
John Lennon

This hardly sounds like the man who imagined no religion. A fan in India wrote Lennon less to inquire and more to acquire, namely money for a trip around the world so that he could “discover the ‘huge treasure’ necessary for achieving inner peace.” Lennon responded with a brief rebuke of the man’s material aspirations, then recommended TM, “through which all things are possible.” (He signs both letters with “jai guru dev,” or “I give thanks to the Guru Dev,” the Maharishi’s teacher. The phrase also appears as the refrain in his “Across the Universe.”)

The letters come from an excellent collection of his correspondence, The John Lennon Letters, which includes other missives extolling the virtues of transcendental meditation. We might take his word for it based on the strength of the creative work he produced during the period. We could also take the word of David Lynch, who describes meditation as the way he catches the creative “big fish.” Or we could go out and find our own methods for expanding our minds and tapping into creative potential.

via Brain Pickings

Related Content:

David Lynch Explains How Meditation Enhances Our Creativity

The John Lennon Sketchbook, a Short Animation Made of Lennon’s Drawings, Premieres on YouTube

Watch John Lennon’s Last Live Performance (1975): “Imagine,” “Stand By Me” & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Behold the Codex Gigas (aka “Devil’s Bible”), the Largest Medieval Manuscript in the World

Bargain with the devil and you may wind up with a golden fiddle, supernatural guitar playing ability, or a room full of gleaming alchemized straw.

Whoops, we misattributed that last one. It's actually Rumpelstiltskin’s doing, but the by-morning-or-else deadline that drives the Brothers Grimm favorite is not dissimilar to the ultimatum posed to disgraced medieval monk Hermann the Recluse: produce a giant book that glorifies your monastery and includes all human knowledge by sunrise, or we brick you up Cask of Amontillado-style.

Why else would a book as high-minded as the Codex Gigas (Latin for Giant Book) contain a full page glamour portrait of the devil garbed in an ermine loincloth and cherry red claws?

Perhaps it’s the 13th-century equivalent of “sex sells.” What better way to keep your book out of the remainder bin of history than to include an eye-catching glimpse of the Prince of Darkness? Hedge your bets by positioning a splendid vision of the Heavenly City directly opposite.

Notable illustrations aside, the Codex Gigas holds the distinction of being the largest extant medieval illuminated manuscript in the world.




Weighing in at 165 lbs, this 3-foot tall bound whale required the skins of 160 donkeys, at the rate of two pages per donkey. (Ten pages devoted to St. Benedict’s rules for monastic life were literally cut from the manuscript at an unknown date.)

It’s a lot.

A National Geographic documentary concluded that the sprawling manuscript would’ve required a minimum of 5 years of full-time, single-minded labor. More likely, the work was spread out over 25 to 30 years, with various authors contributing to the different sections. In addition to a complete Bible, the “Devil’s Bible” includes an encyclopedia, medical information, a calendar of saints’ days, Flavius Josephus’ histories The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities and some practical advice on exorcising evil spirits.

The actual lettering does seem to come down to a single scribe with very neat handwriting. Experts at National Library of Sweden, where the Codex Gigas has come to a rest after centuries of adventures and misadventures, identify it as carolingian minuscule, a popular and highly legible style of medieval script. Its uniform size would’ve required the scribe to rule each page before forming the letters, after which 100 lines a day would have been a reasonable goal.

You can have a look for yourself on the Library’s website, where the entire work is viewable in digitized form. (Note: you will need to have flash enabled to see the pages.)

Certainly the devil is a great place to start, though his appearance may strike you as a bit comical, given all the fuss.

For viewers unsure of where to start, the library has compiled a guide to the highlights.

You’ll also find a lot of interesting historical detail: relocations resulting from the Hussite Wars and the Thirty Years’ War, a close call with fire, and of course the attendant legends.

Begin your explorations of the Codex Gigas here.

Related Content:

How Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beautiful, Centuries-Old Craft

Behold the Beautiful Pages from a Medieval Monk’s Sketchbook: A Window Into How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made (1494)

Wonderfully Weird & Ingenious Medieval Books

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, April 23 for the third installment of her literary-themed variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

More in this category... »
Quantcast