Meditations on the Tarot

the greater trumpsIt has been an unexpected joy for me– this (past) spring and summer –to delve into the history, mystery, and lore surrounding Tarot cards.  My focus has been on their psychological significance, in a Jungian sense– and on their philosophical and theological significance –not on their popular employment as a means of divination.  When it comes to fortune telling, I’m like Aunt Sybil in Charles Williams’, The Greater Trumps.  The sentiments that I have in mind are expressed in the following  exchange between Sybil, her niece Nancy, and Nancy’s boyfriend, Henry:

“What did you mean about fortune-telling?” [Nancy] said, addressing ostensibly Mr. Lee, but in fact Henry.

Both of them came jerkily back to consciousness of her. But the old man was past speech; he could only look at his grandson. For a moment Henry didn’t seem to know what to say. But Nancy’s eager and devoted eyes were full on him, and something natural in him responded. “Why, yes,” he said, “it’s here that fortunes can be told. If your father will let us use his pack of cards?” He looked inquiringly across.

Mr. Coningsby’s earlier suspicion poked up again, but he hesitated to refuse. “O, if you choose,” he said. “I’m afraid you’ll find nothing in it, but do as you like. Get them, Nancy; they’re in my bag.” [...] “Right,” said Nancy [...] She found the Tarot pack and ran back again [...] “Who’ll try first?” she went on, holding out the Tarots. “Father? Aunt? Or will you, Mr. Lee?” Aaron waved them on. “No, no,” he said hurriedly. “Pray one of you–they’re yours. Do try–one of you.”

“Not for me, thank you.  I’ve no wish to be amused so–” Her father hesitated for an adverb, and Sybil also with a gesture put them by.

“O, aunt, do!” Nancy said, feeling that if her aunt was in it things would be safer.

“Really, Nancy. I’d rather not–if you don’t mind,” Sybil said, apologetic, but determined. “It’s–it’s so much like making someone tell you a secret.”

“What someone?” Henry said, anger still in his voice. “I don’t mean someone exactly,” Sybil said, “but things…the universe, so to speak.  If it’s gone to all this trouble to keep the next minute quiet, it seems rude to force its confidence.  Do forgive me.”  She did not, Nancy noticed, add, as she sometimes did, that it was probably silly of her.

Nancy frowned at the cards. “Don’t you think we ought to?” she asked. “Of course, if you can,” Sybil answered. “It’s just–do excuse me–that I can’t.”

“You sound”, Henry said, recovering a more normal voice, “on remarkably intimate terms with the universe.  Mayn’t it cheat you? Supposing it had something unpleasant waiting for you?”

“But,” said Sybil, “as somebody says in Dickens, ‘It hasn’t, you know, so we won’t suppose it.’ Traddles, of course. I’m forgetting Dickens; I must read him again. Well, Nancy, it’s between you and Henry.”

Likewise– while  I am not suggesting that anyone else should feel the way I do about fortune telling –I want to make clear to others who do feel that way that I know where they are coming from.  But it is also worth noting that Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis were friends and fellow inklings.  As such, those of us who (like Charles Williams) find ourselves nonetheless fascinated by these cards are not necessarily (or for that reason alone) in bad company.  One may well ask, however,

If you aren’t interested in divining the future, what is your fascination with Tarot cards? 

As it happened, my interest sprouted almost immediately– and began to blossom very quickly  and unexpectedly –when a friend handed me Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey Into Christian Hermeticism, by Valentin Tomberg.

mott-ver4This amazing book is written in the form of 22 letters– addressed to the unknown friend –with each letter pertaining to one of the 22 Major Arcana or Trumps of the Tarot.  Each letter is a sustained meditation on a particular card, relating it to the teachings of the western, Catholic tradition, to the so-called Hermetic tradition, and to other religious and quasi-religious philosophies from a variety of cultures and epochs.  Moreover, most of the letters also refer to several of the other letters, at least in passing (and to their corresponding Trumps), creating a very dense network of interlocking symbols and multifarious modes of discourse which is extremely difficult to summarize, but which– in conjunction with a contemplation of the Trumps themselves –tends to captivate the imagination and open the heart in a way that has, for me, been truly unique and extraordinary.   I say this in spite of the fact that I have not been reading it uncritically.  At some point, perhaps, I will write a sympathetic critique in which I will address, among other things, what are, in my opinion:

  • The Many Imaginative Leaps in the Arguments
  • The Seemingly Blind Defense of Catholic Tradition and Dogma
  • Its Less than Fair Treatment of Nondual Philosophies
  • Its Less than Fair Treatment of Nietzsche
  • Its Occasional Lack of Scientific Rigor

These criticisms notwithstanding, it is– in contrast to Our Sunday School Theologya breath of fresh air.  And even if it is not (in my opinion) completely fair in its presentation of other philosophies and religions, it at least attempts to represent them as having a share in the truth which, from its own point of view, both antedates and ultimately finds fulfillment in the Catholic faith.

But over and above this, the author seems to appreciate– fully and without reservation –that faith is not merely a matter of believing in sacred texts, religious dogma, or some imagined series of historical or prophetic events, but entails entering into the One life Divine, here and now.  And, my brief but pointed criticisms notwithstanding, his treatment of other faiths and other philosophies is, it seems to me, fair enough and comprehensive enough to build a bridge that can allow traffic to pass both ways (i.e. into or out of the Roman Catholic Church for which he is an apologist).  Indeed, with respect to the Hermetic tradition, this highly recommended website quotes him as follows:

In May 1967 the author wrote to some friends: “My meditations on the Tarot are no scientific undertaking. Rather, they are a wide-ranging effort, by means of the symbolism of the Hermetic tradition, to enter again deeply into the all-encompassing stream of the Catholic tradition, so through a shift in perspective, through a purifying atonement, the Catholic and the Hermetic traditions might be seen as one, in harmony with each other” (EnglishWordPlay.Com).

So, if one is willing to roll with the punches– to go along and get along so to speak –this book is, on balance, rather ecumenical and inclusive.  In fact, I think it could, with sufficient nuance on the part of the instructor (and in conjunction with other texts offering alternative and supplemental points of view), be used in a college level course in comparative philosophy and/or religion.

Rather than struggling to summarize the content of this extraordinary book in this brief review, I recommend that anyone who is so inclined follow the link below to a beautiful summary presentation complements of BBC Radio Drama Producer, Shaun Macloughlin:

jack2http://www.englishwordplay.com/tarot.html
English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy
Meditations on the TAROT

And, for additional online resources, see my new blog which, among other things, is designed to pull together as much quality content as possible from around the web pertaining to this text:

TeenyTinyTarot.Com

blog banner book mark3

In the process of reading these 650+ pages, I decided to purchase a deck of Tarot cards and became increasingly fascinated by the Major Arcana as I continued to work my way through the text.  Later, I decided to print my own deck of Teeny Tiny Tarot Trumps and also secured copies of the following:

The Symbolism of the Tarot, by P.D. Ouspensky

The Greater Trumps, by Charles Williams (a novel)

The Fools Pilgrimage: A Kabbalistic Meditation on the Tarot, by Stephan A. Hoeller

The Tarot: History, Mystery & Lore, by Cynthia Giles

The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination — Created by Ed Buryn (Based on the works of William Blake)

In the process of exploring this material, I also found something very much akin to my own default philosophical position echoed in the writing of P.D Ouspensky, via Cynthia Giles.  The image, at the bottom, is based on this quotation:

00. resized“If we imagine twenty-one [numbered Tarot Trumps] disposed in the shape of a triangle, seven cards on each side, a point in the centre of the triangle represented by the zero card, and a square round the triangle (the square consisting of fifty-six cards, fourteen on each side), we shall have a representation of the relation between God, Man and the Universe, or the relation between the world of ideas, the consciousness of man and the physical world. The triangle is God (the Trinity) or the world of ideas, or the noumenal world. The point is man’s soul. The square is the visible, physical or phenomenal world. Potentially, the point is equal to the square, which means that all the visible world is contained in man’s consciousness, is created in man’s soul. And the soul itself is a point having no dimension in the world of the spirit, symbolized by the triangle. It is clear that such an idea could not have originated with ignorant people and clear also that the Tarot is something more than a pack of playing or fortune-telling cards.” ~ D.P. Ouspensky, “THE SYMBOLISM OF THE TAROT”

Making suitable allowance for the context– and keeping in mind (as Donald Tyson point out) that the fool was originally an unnumbered card and that, later, it was numbered “0” (zero) by occultists and esoteric philosophers –I think Ouspensky’s formulation articulates very well (in the imaginal context of the Tarot) my own implicit idealism (derived from my admittedly idiosyncratic  reading of Kant and Spinoza) which I sometimes refer to (only half jokingly) as Trinitarian panentheism.

Here, in conclusion, is Ouspensky’s formulation as represented by Cythia Giles:

Giles on Ouspensky

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Romans 7 in retrospect…

romans 7-15Each of the articles linked to below pertain to  the classic dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit as described in Romans 7.  This text and this problem have been on my mind (to one degree or another) for 40 years.  The third article contains the key that, for me, effectively resolves the conflict.   Depending on one’s interests– or where one is in their spiritual walk –the first two articles may be more or less helpful.  Take what seems good to you and leave the rest… 

Flesh and Spirit in Conflict
This is an older essay outlining the problem as I understand it…

The Order of Being and the Life of Faith
This offers further scriptural analysis leading up to the solution…

The Mind of Christ and the Power of the Spirit
This describes the kind of transcendental vision and existential decision which, by the grace of God, effectively resolves the conflict…

tug of war

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Ancient Hebrew Resource Center

Every now and then I stumble onto a website that presents what seems to me– rightly or wrongly — a vast quantity of extremely valuable information in a relatively easily intuitable form.  I then become extraordinarily enthused with the material and want to share my enthusiasm with as many people as possible.  That has been my experience over the past few days with Jeff Benner’s Ancient Hebrew Resource Center.

My interests and commitments are quite diverse (so I really don’t have a clue as to how much time I will actually invest in this kind of study), but I feel that if I had nothing else to do (or read or think about), I could probably be quite happy exploring the material on this website (and the associated material on YouTube) for the rest of my life.  I’m not kidding.

Consider, for example, the introductory discussion in this Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible:
hal el

For those who are more inclined to an audio visual presentation, check out the YouTube clips on The Way of Yahweh (this is Part 1 — be sure to look for parts 2 – 5) and This is my Name (be sure to look for part 2).

And for those who are serious about a close reading of the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy), check out A Mechanical Translation of Genesis and this draft of A Mechanical Translation of the Torah.  Here’s a sample of the parallel translation of the first 5 verses of Genesis:

mechanical translation of genesis

If, by this time, you are as excited about all these resources as I am, you will want to google Jeff Benner PDF and download all the great books that he is offering on his website — apparently for free — at least for the time being.  Don’t thank me — thank Jeff Benner!  :)

praise

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Period Pieces

One of the menu items, above, is Period PiecesThis section pertains to old websites that I have worked on from time to time over the years, but which I have been in the process of (gradually) phasing out.  As planned, I am little by little archiving the best of these older projects here.  Here is what has been accomplished to date:

Additional pages will be probably be added in the near future–just hover over the menus from time to time to see what’s new!  In the mean time,

mpartyon

 

Party on…

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Kant and Spinoza, together at last…

For some people– both theists and atheists among them, perhaps –Kant and Spinoza, together, may offer a framework through which our previous discussion of God-talk may become more intelligible.  [Note: This approach is rather specialized and will not appeal to everyone.]

kant and spinozaOn the one hand,  both Kant’s phenomena and Spinoza’s modes fully encompass the macroscopic world of classical physics–indeed, they encompass anything and everything that is perceived to exist (or conceived to exist) merely in relation to other things that exist in space and/or time (scroll down to the graphic–and see also this Quick and Dirty Summary of Spinoza and Kant).

On the other hand, it’s easy to see how Kant’s noumena and Spinoza’s substance each refer in some sense to that which is absolute– that which is in itself  –however much these thinkers might differ as to whether, how, and to what degree the absolute (or that which IS absolutely) may be known.

Meanwhile, centuries after Spinoza and during the two centuries following Kant, we have begun to explore the mysterious subatomic realm of quantum physics which seems to lie at the boundary of the apparent world– the boundary between the absolute and the relative, per chance –between eternity and time; the transcendent and the immanent; the ideal and the real.  At the very least, quantum physics has thrown a monkey wrench into the “clock-work universe” of Newton,  and the doors of western culture seem to be opening once again to the vertical dimensionthe domain of faith which had become somewhat effaced (or defaced) in the modern period, as we fell under the spell of the empirical sciences and began to imagine that the horizontal dimension– the apparently deterministic world of natural historyconstitutes the whole of  reality.

As such, we can now see that while the phenomenal realm– the world of our experience –offers an awe inspiring re-presentation of reality in space and time (a la Kant), it may well be that our real truth and being is to be found in (what Spinoza calls) our “knowledge of  the union existing between the mind and the whole of nature” (see his unfinished essay, On the Improvement of the Understanding, aka Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect ).  Indeed, for Spinoza, this knowledge is, for us, the supreme good.  And it would seem that it is only with reference to our knowledge of this union that the real meaning of the apparent unfolding of our lives in space and time can be realized.  This blessedness is for us, as it was for Spinoza, a nondual realization of that which IS as it IStimelessly/eternally  –here & now.  And this would also seem to be our intuitive point of contact with a domain which Kant excludes from knowledge, per se–i.e. the domain of God, freedom, and immortality.

Similarly, for Christians, the meaning and purpose of life is to be found in being reconciled to God  (who, according to Acts 17:27-28, is not so far from any one of us–indeed, in Him we live and move and have our being).  From this point of view, as well, it is understood that– Christlike –we, too, may come to know that we are atOne with the Father and members one of another.  In other words, whatever the future may hold, we have eternal life, here & now– being buried with him in baptism and raised with him in newness of life –all of which is just another way of saying that we have the mind of Christ.  And to say that we have the mind of Christ is another way of saying that, on some level, we are aware of the union that exists between the mind and the whole of Nature–between the Cosmos and God.  In other words, we are reconciled to God (which is to say that, having taken up our cross, we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God ).   And the goal of Christian worship and practice is to grow in grace and knowledge of this truth which is then reflected through us– through our lives and relationships –out into the world at large.

If the forgoing account seems at all helpful, perhaps the diagram below (together with this Quick and Dirty Summary of Spinoza and Kant) will help to further illustrate some of the points of comparison that can be drawn between these two great thinkers.  And perhaps this, in turn, will help to provide a philosophical framework through which some of the obstacles to living faith can be removed.  As always, take what you find helpful and leave the rest.  But do keep in mind that different people will quite naturally speak of– and comport themselves quite differently with respect to –their Divine source or ground (depending on BOTH their cultural & educational background AND their natural temperament).  One size does not fit all–and yet there is room for all in this field of awareness that we are–this Divine presence that I Am.

Quick and Dirty Summary of Spinoza and Kant

Note:  Click on the graphic, below, to enlarge it:
kant and spinoza5

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Why all the God-talk?

god-talk-croppedThe idea of God has always loomed large in my life and continues to play a prominent role in my conversation with others.  But what if someone doesn’t believe in God or feels uneasy about the idea?  The questions naturally arise:  Why all the God-talk?  On what basis is it justified?  Those are fair questions, to be sure, and it seems to me that there are two ways to address them:

  1. As far as I am concerned, everything is open for discussion and everyone is free to question any particular conception of God.  There is no pressure to accept any proposition simply as a matter of “faith” or to “believe” anything that seems incredible.  And there is no need for people to keep their questions or their doubts to themselves so long as they continue to show  all due respect to those who think or believe otherwise.   But rather than (always) thinking in terms of “debating” one another and “winning the argument”, perhaps we could give more thought to the possibility of exploring reality together (without necessarily insisting that we are right and the other person is wrong–or that we must all ultimately see eye to eye).  Perhaps our seeking the truth together could be an end in itself!?
  2. We should keep in mind that, sometimes, the word God is used as a “place-holder” of sorts for the mysterious source, origin, or ground of our existence.  Just as I would ask my atheist or agnostic friends to treat believers with respect– and to maintain that respect even when critically questioning this or that element of a believer’s faith –likewise, I would ask those for whom the word God seems to be more than just a place-holder to be respectful of those for whom it does not (and, likewise, to treat agnostics and atheists with respect even when challenging this or that element of their doubt or disbelief).

With these things in mind, I offer the following bulleted items as a provisional point of departure for more fruitful conversations between “believers” and “unbelievers” (of various kinds) and, more specifically, between “theists” and “atheists”:

  • First, for the sake of most such discussions, perhaps we can agree that the word God (minimally speaking) refers to that which we tend to think of as the mysterious source, origin, or ground of existence.  Let us all acknowledge that, for many people, it is an open question whether or not this source is spiritual or physical; personal or impersonal; knowable or unknowable; real or imaginary.  And perhaps we should not presume to really understand what any of those characterizations might mean to someone else until we have conversed with them at some length and listened to them carefully and with compassion.
  • Second, as we explore reality together, let Consciousness, as such– the light of awareness –be recognized as the universal horizon of any and all experience.  For in a manner of speaking, Consciousness is the Reason that anything appears at all–the reason there is something instead of (merely) nothing.  Indeed, from another point of view, it can be said that consciousness itself is the no-thing that provides the necessary background upon which every-thing else appears.  For whether we are exploring the natural world or seeking the face of God, we do so in the light of consciousness.  And while there are many who naturally assume that consciousness is the product of material processes, there are many others for whom it poses the hard problem– the Achilles heel, as it were –of any physicalistic approach to philosophy of mind.  But whatever our position in this regard, perhaps we can all agree that consciousness is in some sense the sine qua non of any and all experience.
  • Finally, let the Cosmosthe (the more or less) orderly world of our experience –be thought of as a manifestation (a spatio-temporal reflection or projection) of the aforementioned source or ground (i.e. a phenomenal representation which appears in and by virtue of Consciousness).  We can continue to debate whether this manifestation is more indicative of the structure of the human brain, per chance, or of the mind of God–but either way, it seems to reflect dimensions of reality that lie well beyond the ordinary objects of perception–realities that transcend the context of our immediate, day to day experience.  From one point of view, these outlying dimensions of reality which we see reflected in our more immediate experience seem to have been there all along, just waiting to be understood.   From another point of view, however, they may seem to be hypothetical constructs that are true only for as long (and insofar) as we find them useful.  And from yet another point of view, it is hard to deny that there might also be other dimensions of reality that, while real enough on their own level, are by their very nature forever inaccessible to us.  For (short of omniscience) however deeply we come to understand the causal relationships that obtain within the flow of appearances, it is our natural impulse to retain an ideal of ultimate Truth (however elusive) and to continue to think, as well, of an unknown source, origin, or ground of all appearances (however empty such concepts may ultimately be).  As such, our ideal of God as the ultimate Truth and/or transcendent source for this undivided turning that we call the universe is not easily dismissed (however sophisticated our scientific knowledge–and however absurd the various sectarian notions of God with which we are familiar may, in fact, be).

From this point of departure, then– that of God, Consciousness, & Cosmos –let us explore reality together, becoming more fully aware of the intelligible relationships that obtain at every level of experience.   As we do this, it seems to me that references to God are justified (at least in part) by our persistent ideal of Truth–but also insofar as we distinguish the cause IN appearances (i.e particular causes or or sets of causal relationships that obtain within the world of our experience) from the cause OF appearances (i.e. the mysterious source or ground of existence, as such–including the consciousness in which and by virtue of which the cosmos  appears). [cf. Kant's discussion of the antinomies of reason in his Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysic.]  The former– i.e. the causal relationships that obtain within the world of our experience –is the ever expanding domain of science.  In contrast, the latter– the mysterious source or ground of existence, as such –seems always to elude our conceptual grasp and remains strangely unaffected by our rapidly accumulating knowledge of the apparent world.  As such, it is understandable that the skeptic may be inclined to assign to the latter a merely logical and pedagogical function–to think of it as a mere “placeholder” for an inaccessible and ever-receding ideal of human knowledge which nevertheless inspires us and leads us on.  Nonetheless, the skeptical point of view cannot rule out the possibility that this imagined consciousnessfirst cause (as it is sometimes called) is not just an ideal–but that it may also be our final cause, as well; an ideal that is in Truth accessible through some species of spiritual insight, intuition, or realization that is fundamentally  pre-conceptual or supra-conceptual (or nondual ).  And this kind of insight (or intuition or realization), it may be argued, is the domain of faith.

While the domain of faith is often contrasted with the domain of science, it may be that Consciousness holds the key to both domains.  For as we contemplate of the apparent dichotomy between the source or ground of existence and its various manifestations, it seems impossible to place consciousness firmly on one side or the other.  On the one hand, all modifications of our individual states of consciousness (i.e. our “mind”) seem to happen in parallel with corresponding changes in our neurophysiology.  As such, it is not implausible to think of the latter as causing the former.  On the other hand, it seems impossible to imagine how more and more complex combinations of inert “matter” can eventually give rise to “sentience” (and then to “perception” and ultimately to “reason”), so it seems just as plausible– if not more so –to associate consciousness with the unknown source or ground of appearances (rather than attributing it to material processes, per se).  But whatever our take on these things, it would seem that there is plenty of room for humility–plenty of room to find common ground –as we continue to explore reality together.  Questions that remain to be considered are:

1. The positive function of religion and its limitations.

2. The positive function of science and its limitations.

Stay tuned!

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Nothing Lasts Forever

Verses by Rabindranath Tagore — performed by Lisa Bonet — scroll down…

Nothing Lasts Forever
Tagore3No one lives forever.
Keep that in mind, and love.

Our life is not the same old burden;
Our path is not the same long journey.
The flower fades and dies,
We must pause to weave perfection into music
Keep that in mind, and love.

My beloved, in you I find refuge.

Love droops towards its sunset
To be drowned in the golden shadows.
Love must be called from its play
And love must be born again to be free
Keep that in mind, and love.

My beloved, in you I find refuge
Without seeing my love, I cannot sleep

Lisa+Bonet-682x1024Let us hurry to gather our flowers
Before they are plundered by the passing winds.
It quickens our blood and brightens our eyes
To snatch kisses that would vanish
If we delayed.

Our life is eager;
Our desires are keen,
For time rolls by
Keep that in mind, and love.

My beloved, in you I find refuge

Beauty is sweet for a short time,
And then it is gone.
Knowledge is precious
But we will never have time to complete it.
All is done and finished
In eternal heaven,
But our life here is eternally fresh.
Keep that in mind, and love.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

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