Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book Review: Pregnant Darkness

Pregnant Darkness: Alchemy and the Rebirth of Consciousness by Monika Wikman is an excellent introduction to Jungian psychology and the use of alchemy for personal transformation. My guess is that "pregnant darkness" refers to the subconscious mind and the wealth of treasures there if you know how to look for them. Dreams are prominent in the book as indicators of progress and what needs to be worked on.

Alchemy is the art and science of transformation. In the case of this book, what is being transformed is yourself. The important concepts in alchemy, for example, the philosophers' stone and the first matter, are explained in relation to psychology. Mythology is used to help explain the concepts. The story of King Midas, for example, is given as an illustration of what happens when you refuse to admit when you're being a jackass. That points to what seems to be a prevailing theme of the book: don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and own up to your shadow self. And that makes sense. After all, isn't admitting there's a problem the first step of recovery?

This book is not for newbies, but should prove very helpful with some background knowledge.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Recovering Materialist Thanksgiving

If you're like most people I know, you'll spend your Thanksgiving doing one or more of the following things: watching one or more of the parades; watching one or more of the football games; eating dinner with the family. Some of us will also take some time to be thankful for the things we have: our families, homes, health, that sort of thing.

Those of us who are recovering materialists will take this one step further. Both the hermetic and mystic traditions affirm that we both have and are more than we know, even more than we can imagine. Maybe we can't be thankful for these things because we don't know what they are, but rest assured that there's a part of us that knows exactly, and is infinitely thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Learning Tarot

Thanks to a couple of years with B.O.T.A., I'm familiar with the Major Arcana cards of the Tarot, but recently I decided to learn more about the rest of the deck in preparation for doing Tarot readings. I've read a few books, and I'm currently reading Learning Tarot by Joan Bunning, which has an associated website.

One thing I've noticed is that if you look in 5 different books for a description of the same card, you will get at least 4 different descriptions. Even the different decks have vastly different artwork for each card. It seems that Tarot is like a book that is written once for each deck that gets produced, and once again for each author that interprets it. What's even worse is that every author who writes about Tarot has a slightly different way of reading the Celtic Cross spread. This can be very confusing, so I've decided to stick with one deck (the Rider-Waite, pictured above), and one system of readings, which I haven't decided on yet.

My approach to the readings will be: "What's on your mind?" The consensus theory is that the order of the cards is changed during mixing or shuffling to reflect the state of mind of the person for whom the reading is being done. Of course, the cards can't be seen, so this theory only works if the subconscious mind somehow has access to the order of the cards. I'm O.K. with that. Everything I've read, and the practice readings I've done, indicate that it works, and that's good enough for me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Learning Astrology

I've been studying hermeticism and related topics for the last three years, and it always bothered me that I didn't really understand astrology, so I decided to devote some time to its study. My background in astrology before this consisted of reading the daily horoscope in the newspaper as a teenager, and Sun Signs and Love Signs by Linda Goodman.

The first thing I noticed was that the descriptions of the planets corresponded nicely to the spheres of the tree of life to which they were assigned. In the course of re-reading The Mystical Qabalah I learned that the correspondence was by design. The aspects between the planets were easy to understand if I thought of them as the interactions between the spheres of the tree. The signs also had correspondences to some of the major arcana tarot cards. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the functions of the houses.

An interesting idea I found in my research (though I don't remember where I read it) is that you don't get the characteristics of your sun sign by default. This is because most of us are basically in automatic pilot mode, governed by our emotions (the moon). I remember the author saying something like "We all have free will, but most of us don't use it."

Another interesting concept from Astrology: A Cosmic Science by Isabel Hickey is that we do not have the characteristics we have because we were born at a certain date and time; it's exactly the other way around.

Anyway, I'll keep studying, and hopefully I'll be able to start doing readings some time soon. On a related note, I got a sign today that I'm probably ready to start doing tarot readings now. My wife and I were waiting in line at the espresso bar at a local Barnes & Noble. A young lady in front of us noticed that I had a copy of Learning the Tarot by Joan Bunning. She asked me what I thought of the book, then asked me about a tarot card she had found. It was the ten of wands, but the design was different from the normal Rider-Waite layout. At first, I just told her that the fact that she found the card meant that she should pay attention to it. After thinking about it for a while, I came to a realization. She had found the card, and knew what it meant, but the design wasn't what she expected. The meaning seemed obvious to me: she was already in that situation (being over-burdened), but saw something different on the card and was confused. I told her that she needed to look at the situation she was in differently. She was happy with the answer, and I was happy that I was able to figure it out.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why I Didn't Vote

As I mentioned in a prior post, I've only voted once. Generally when people ask me if I voted, I tell them the truth, and I get basically the same response an atheist would get from a churchgoer. ("You didn't vote!? Why not!?" vs. "You don't believe in God!? Why not!?") To that I usually say something about the probability of my one vote deciding the election is almost as high as my chances of winning the lottery. "But what if everyone did that?" I used to say that I don't decide for everyone, just myself; I now realize that answer doesn't cut it, for a very important reason. The question itself is a version of the Categorical Imperative, and it's important because in the course of my research I've discovered that the state of mind in which one performs an action can have an effect on others, so the Categorical Imperative is probably a good idea.

With that in mind, I have a new personal policy toward elections: I will only vote for a candidate if I know the candidate's philosophy and agree with it. This policy satisfies the Categorical Imperative because I would highly encourage everyone else to follow the same policy.

First reason: it would send a more accurate message to the candidates. CNN says that 53% of the population voted for Obama. I'm pretty sure that at least some portion of that 53% voted for Obama because they didn't want McCain to win, or for the opportunity to make history. How many? We have no way of knowing. If everyone followed my policy, we would know, and people wouldn't claim mandates that weren't really there.

Second reason: everyone following this policy would create a space for third parties. Obama and McCain together got 99% of the popular vote. At least some of that 99% actually would prefer a third party candidate. A third party winning, or getting enough votes to cost of the the two major parties the election, is a good thing. More competition would give the major parties incentive to improve, and provide an influx of new ideas.

Third reason: the people who followed this policy would have the personal benefit of knowing that they voted for what they wanted instead of against what they didn't want.

So, anyway, that's my new policy, and I would encourage the rest of you to follow it as well.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Book Review: Cloud upon the Sanctuary

Did you ever have the feeling that someone "up there" was looking out for you? Or in the alternative, do you agree with the Matrix guys who think we're being farmed like sheep? And is there really any difference? Either way, we're being monitored by beings much smarter (or more powerful) than us for reasons we can't determine. But enough paranoia. Let's look at the positive side of this idea.

Cloud upon the Sanctuary by Karl von Eckartshausen is a classic work of hermeticism based on the idea that there is a body of knowledge being held in escrow for us, to be released when we're ready for it. In the meantime, symbols pointing to that knowledge are spread throughout the world's cultures and religions.

When will we be ready? Those of us who realize that there's more to the world than can be measured by our scientific instruments, and that there's more to religion than rules and rituals, have already started the journey. Contact with people who have more information, either directly or through books, is inevitable at that point.

Will this book help you get ready? Probably not, at least not by itself. But it does point to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and sometimes knowing the pot is there can be helpful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Book Review: Enchanted Love

One side effect of recovery from materialism that I've noticed is that life seems to take on a quality that can only be described as magical. The Course in Miracles says that is by design. Miracles are supposed to happen; we just need to get out of our own way.

But how does this relate to love? What most people think of as romantic love is better described as a combination of need and fear. The neediness and fear drive jealously and possessiveness. But when you get rid of that, what's left? The problem with unconditional love is it's inherently universal, and if everybody's somebody, then nobody's anybody.

Marianne Williamson, one of the most prominent authors who write about The Course, has the answer in her book Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships. She says that romantic love is vital because "heaven is entered two by two." Any of us who have been in a serious relationship will know that it can show you the very worst aspects of your partner and your self. This is a good thing. According to the course (and most psychologists), the traits we dislike the most in other people are really parts of ourselves that we disown and project onto them. By bringing these traits to the surface, an intimate relationship gives us the opportunity to accept them, which is of course a prerequisite for real change.

I could go on and on about the book, so I'll close by saying that Ms. Williamson has obviously learned a lot about love, presumably the hard way. Her book can same you some time in creating the real thing for yourself. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Recovering Materialist Politics

After a recent argument with a couple of friends over why I wasn't voting for Obama (or anyone else), I started thinking about my political philosophy, and the fact that it hadn't been updated to reflect what I've learned in the past few years. The first concept that comes to mind is the Taoist idea that people who are living right don't need laws. An obvious corollary is that if everyone is living right, laws become irrelevant. I'm sure there are other applicable ideas, and if you happen to think of any, please leave a comment.

Now, why am I not voting for Obama? The same reason I didn't vote for Clinton or either of the Bushes. I won't vote for anyone unless I know their philosophy and agree with it. The "lesser of two evils" or "at least it's a step in the right direction" will happen just as well without my help. At least 30 percent of the population will think it's the wrong direction anyway.

Thinking about the argument raised an important question: how do we deal with others who we think have suboptimal beliefs or behaviors? This seems to me to be the central question in politics. A possible answer is the use of force, and if you're in favor of laws against "victimless crimes" or mandatory anything, this is your answer. Another answer is that we leave them alone and insulate ourselves from the results or their beliefs or actions as best we can; this is the Libertarian philosophy in a nutshell. A third answer is the use of persuasion. Can you think of any others? Again, please leave comments.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Bright Spot of the 2008 Recession

I have good news tonight. Because of the recession, people are cutting back on unnecessary purchases. They are bringing lunches to work more. They are holding on to their cars and houses longer. No, I haven't lost it. This really is good news, for the economy and for ourselves.

First, the economy. Growth based on consumer spending driven by easy credit is not sustainable. We've now found this out the hard way. Sustainable growth is driven by productivity improvements and new products. Both of those things need savings and investment. We'll save now, because we know we have to. Consumer spending will come back after this happens, and the economy will be stronger than before the recession because it will have a solid base.

More important than the economy, however, is the effect the cutback will have on ourselves. We're being forced to prioritize, to decide which things are more important to us to have. This re-evaluation is actually part of the first step toward recovery from materialism (admit there's a problem).