Monday, November 26, 2012

Mysticism for the Folk

Harold Schwartz’s collection of mystical tales Gabriel’s Palace has a wide reach, culling stories from all over the Jewish world.  But it also shows how conservative folk tales are.  We can see a pattern in the stories told in this collection: things are not as they seem in the world.  A divine mechanism is at work.  And only when the main character makes a mistake is this revealed to him or her.

So, this collection has nothing new in terms of the form of folk stories.  However the especially Jewish content is important, and should inform the reader.  The abstruse cosmologies and theosophical speculation of the Jewish mystics are here simplified, and mixed with common folk wisdom.  A particular emphasis is placed on gigul, or reincarnation, which is often resorted to in these stories as the ultimate riddle of the fate of the soul. 

These stories tell the tales of mysticism for regular people.  They focus on everyday concerns, even as they pay close attention to matters divine.

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