Members-only podcast episode
Frances Flannery Dreams On
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In this continuation of the main episode we discuss many things with Frances Flannery, the conversation circling around the thorny problem of interpreting textual accounts of religious experiences. The fascinating conversation covers many topics, including:
- The sensorial range present in the Enochic apocalypses, and the smell of the heavenly trees in the Book of Watchers,
- The problem of interpretation of religious experience, and the dangers of reification or letting the model, rather than the evidence, dictate interpretation,
- Attempts to open new pathways for interpreting religious experiences from texts, notably comparative analysis of ritual practices and neurobiology,
- The dreams of the platypus and his monotreme cousin, the echidna,
- And the question of how stories define us as human beings, and whether we are unique among animals in our storytelling activities (and in our sense of humour).
- Boustan, R. S. (2007). ‘The Study of Hekhalot Literature: Between Mystical Experience and Textual Artifact’, Currents in Biblical Research 6 : 130-160.
- Flannery, F. (2014). ‘Dreams, Visions, and Religious Experience in the Apocalypses and Apocalypticism’. In: Collins, J. J. (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature, Oxford University Press.
- Flannery-Dailey, F., 2004. Dreamers, Scribes, and Priests: Jewish Dreams in the Hellenistic and Roman Eras. Brill, Leiden.
- Flannery-Dailey, F. (2006). ‘Lessons on Early Jewish Apocalypticism and Mysticism from Dream Literature’. In: DeConick, A. D. (Ed.), Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism, Society of Biblical Literature.
- Proudfoot, W., 1985. Religious Experience. University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles, CA. For an extremely reductionist view of the problem of religious experience (or experience in general).
- Shantz, C. and Werline, R., (Edd.) 2012. Experientia, Volume 2: Linking Text and Experience. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA.
- Smart, N. (1978). ‘Understanding Religious Experience’. In: Steven Katz (Ed.), Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, Sheldon Press.
- Flannery, F.; Schantz, C. & Werline, R. A. (Ed.), 2008. Experientia, Volume 1: Inquiry into Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA.
December 1, 2022
Due to the obvious Merkavah theme, this comment could also be posted a couple of episodes back, but since a generous spirit of taking seriously “mystical” religious experiences pervades this episode, I thought it would just as well fit here.
The following passage is from Swami Muktananda’s 1972 autobiography Play of Consciousness, and it appears to evince a shocking universality of the tradition under discussion. While Muktananda eventually, by many accounts, lost all credibility as an enlightened master, it should be noted that this experience and the period it was written down occurred before his fall from grace. Whether this fact renders the reported experience more believable is clearly debatable, but I feel this just hits too close to home to not have it somewhere represented in the SHWEP.
“One day in meditation I visited a great city. As soon as I saw it, I fell into a deep sleep and so could not see or understand anything about it; […] I saw, in the distance, a chariot coming toward me. It was made in a unique way, a way that human ingenuity could not reproduce. It was studded with precious stones, made not of matter but of Consciousness. Instead of wheels, it had four small pillars beneath it. It shone all over with rays of divine light, as if illuminated by thousands of suns, and it moved without touching the ground. When I saw it, I was swept away in ecstasy. The chariot approached me and stopped, and a god in human form stepped out. […] The god looked at me and smiled, then spoke in Sanskrit, […], “Sit in the chariot.”
[…]; from the outside, the chariot looked about ten feet square, but once inside I saw that it was very big […]. There was water, a small bathrooom, and several bedrooms. […] I felt the chariot setting off at the speed of lightning. […] We arrived at a wonderful, extraordinary city, […]. I was in ecstasy at what I saw.”
He goes on to describe the city and his brief experience there. (Muktananda was widely traveled in his meditations. In an earlier chapter he relates visiting a city on the moon!)
December 2, 2022
Nice. Maybe there’s something about chariots (cf. Parmenides).