Saturday, August 30, 2008

Book Review: Meditations on the Tarot

The three religious vows are poverty, chastity and obedience. These vows are taken by people who wish to devote themselves to the religious life. A book on the Tarot is the last place you would expect to see them featured. Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (anonymous, published posthumously, is that book.

The book covers the Major Arcana tarot cards using the Marseilles Tarot. The cards are covered in the medieval order: the Fool is just before the World, and Justice and Strength are reversed, with the standard weak explanation of why the Fool isn't first where it belongs. But that's O.K., because the Tarot isn't the kind of book that's written in stone. It's the kind of book that's rewritten each time it's read.

So what exactly is Christian hermeticism? Hermeticism uses symbolism to balance the different components of the personality with an ultimate aim of realization of union with the universe. Substitute God for the universe, and you have Christian hermeticism.

Themes addressed in the book include: personal magic vs. sacred magic, building vs. growth, reincarnation vs. purgatory and heaven. The last theme is interesting because it includes an explanation of why the idea of reincarnation was suppressed by the church, despite an obvious Bible reference. The reason given is that people would not strive to lead lives sufficient to reach heaven through purgatory if they knew that they could keep coming back.

If you come from a Catholic background like I do, this book should be right up your alley.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Eve Hubbard in '08: A Possible Foreign Policy

I've written a couple of posts about a character from the Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy named Eve Hubbard who runs for President and has some unique policies. I don't remember seeing anything in the book about her foreign policy, so I'm going to nominate myself for her Secretary of State and tell you about what I would try to implement.

First: our soldiers should be defending our borders and our citizens. If there is a threat to another nation, we can help, but they should pay for it. Playing world policeman is right out.

Second: trade embargoes restrict the choices of our citizens. While they certainly affect the livelihoods of citizens of other countries, they rarely make life difficult for the leaders of those other countries. So embargoes are out too.

Third: as with most things, the principle of correspondence applies here. Problems getting along with other nations on a world level reflect problems getting along with our neighbors on a local level, and vice versa. Some of us complain about perpetual war, but how many of us can even drive to work without getting annoyed at one or more of the other drivers?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Book Review: Alice in Quantumland

Quantum physics is the swan song of fundamentalist materialism. Given that quantum physics started about a hundred years ago, fundamentalist materialism is a walking corpse and has been for some time. Just to be clear, by fundamentalist materialism I refer to the belief that the universe consists of a lot of particles that behave basically like little billiard balls, and electromagnetic energy, and gravity. That's all. Nothing else. Even life, according to this paradigm, is simply a result of particular combinations of the billiard balls.

The mortal weakness of this paradigm, however, is the central assumption that the billiard balls and associated forces behave deterministically. That is, if you were able to know the position and momentum at a certain point in time of each of the billiard balls, you can predict the position and momentum of any of them at any point in time in the future (given a sufficiently powerful computer). Quantum physics says quite flatly that this assumption is incorrect. For this reason we as recovering materialists should all devote some time to learning at least the basics of quantum physics.

Alice in Quantumland: An Allegory of Quantum Physics by Robert Gilmore is a good place to start. The format of the book is exactly what you would expect given the title. The content will be more surprising. Neils Bohr once said: "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." So if you don't know anything about quantum physics, prepare to be amazed.

In this book you'll find the standard double-slit experiment, the multiple-worlds theory, quarks, and Schrodinger's cat. The best part of the book in my opinion is the explanation of the measurement problem. The measurement problem is this: each subatomic particles could be in a variety of different states and positions before a measurement is made. The measurement instruments consist of more subatomic particles with the same properties, as does the brain of the person making the measurement. However, once a measurement is made, there is just one set of definite properties. So at what point does a collection of probabilities collapse into a single measurement?

The book doesn't cover the new string theory, but all of the basics of quantum physics are there. Pick up a copy if the subject interests you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Read Some Science Fiction Today

For a recovering materialist, the most important thing is getting rid of what I like to call "the baggage": a collection of beliefs that no longer work for us. The worst of these beliefs concern limitation: the things we think we could never do; both things we could never do because they are "impossible" and things that we could never do because they are beneath us. Science fiction and fantasy novels can be used to help expand our conceptions of what is possible.

Good science fiction says "What if?" It shows us worlds that we think are impossible given current knowledge of the laws of nature. It shows us parts of ourselves that we didn't know we had. It invokes myths and archetypes that echo in the depths of our minds.

A good novel will induce you to identify with the main character. This is a good thing. A good novel also creates a picture of its world inside your head. This is also a good thing, because the picture will involve the above-mentioned myths and archetypes. These myths and archetypes refer to things that are a part of all of us, but mostly unrecognized. The references in the novels will lay the foundation for future mystic and/or hermetic work. The symbols are in your head now, and when you learn the meaning of them later, the meaning will seem familiar to you.

So don't feel bad if you're over 30 and still reading Harry Potter. It may be that you need some magic in your life. Getting the germ of an idea in your head that magic is possible will prepare you to find the real thing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book Review: The 21 Lessons of Merlyn

When I was in grade school, I used to love exploring the forest behind my grandfather's house. Later, when I was in high school, I played Dungeons and Dragons. My character was always a magic-user (wizard in training). Reading The 21 Lessons of Merlyn: A Study in Druid Magic and Lore by Douglas Monroe brought back memories of both those experiences.

The book is set in 5th-century England, and tells the story of a young King Arthur being tutored by Merlin. After each of the 21 chapters is a practical exercise. The author recommends working through the exercises as an initiation into Druidism. I haven't tried any of the exercises, but I did try the recipe given for a soup based on the four elements: fire is represented by chile peppers, water by squash, air by corn, and earth by mushrooms. Quite tasty.

There's a quote from the book that would make an excellent motto: "The one God has many faces."

I recommend this book for people interested in the hermetic path; it shows that Druidism is certainly a viable option.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Book Review: A Garden of Pomegranates

A Garden of Pomegranates is a classic work about Qabalah and hermeticism. This edition by Chic and Sandra Cicero is an updated version with additional material about pathworking, which I'll get into in more detail later. Now what is Qabalah and why should you care? Qabalah is first and foremost a symbol system, and you should care because the symbols are symbols of different aspects of the universe. If you know about the principle of correspondence, you'll see that the symbols are also about different aspects of yourself.

The most important symbol in Qabalah is the Tree of Life, which is covered by chapters 3 and 4 of the book. The Tree of Life is a compound symbol composed of ten circles called "sephiroth" (covered in chapter 3) and twenty-two lines called "paths" connecting the circles (covered in chapter 4). Attributes of and correspondences to each of the sephiroth and paths are given in the book, along with an explanation of each.

Now let's talk about pathworking, the subject of the second half of the book. This is really about practical application of the information given in the first half of the book. The way this information is applied is by vignettes about each path containing relevant symbolism. To try a pathworking, you would either record the vignette and replay it while relaxing with your eyes closed, and visualizing the events given, or have a friend read it aloud to you. The pathworkings start at Malkuth at the bottom of the tree, and proceed up to Kether at the top. By the time you get to the top of the tree, the symbolism and related myths will become part of you, burned into your subconscious mind.

This book is ideal for those who have read Chicken Qabala but still find The Mystical Qabalah to be intimidating.