Sunday, May 31, 2009

Larry's Notes: Meditations on the Tarot: The Magician

I started reading Meditations on the Tarot again recently, and realized that it was a course of study in itself. As such, it's a perfect candidate for a new series of posts called "Larry's Notes." It's not a summary like Cliffs Notes, but instead I'll talk about key points in books that are helpful to us as recovering materialists.

This book uses for discussion the twenty-two cards of the major arcana from the Marseilles Tarot deck. So first, let's talk about the word "arcana" and what it means. The dictionary lists it as the plural of "arcanum," which means "secret." This book, on the other hand, says that these arcana aren't secrets; they're tools. They are things you need to know to progress along the path. By the way, the path outlined in this book is called "Christian Hermeticism," which is, in fact, the hermetic path that some of us are on, but with Christian (and specifically Catholic) emphasis.

The first point from the chapter that I want to talk about is illustrated by this quote:
Now Hermeticism, the living Hermetic tradition, guards the communal soul of all true culture. I must add: Hermeticists listen to-- and now and then hear--the beating of the heart of the spiritual life of humanity. They cannot do otherwise than live as guardians of the life and communal soul of religion, science and art.

This quote calls to mind the Vestal Virgins, whose job it was to keep the flame in the temple lit at all times. They devoted their lives to the maintenance of the temple and the flame, and their function today has been taken over metaphorically by various writers and occultists. And, what's best of all, because you're sitting there reading this, you're also helping to keep the flame burning.

The next point is that some concept of the essential unity of all things is necessary to even take the first step on the path. The good news is that just holding this concept on an intellectual level is sufficient for starters. After all, if you had continual experience of essential unity, you wouldn't be starting on the path; you'd be close to the end. The essential unity is presented in this chapter in the form of a section of the Emerald Tablet: "That which is above is like that which is below, and that which is below is like that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing." Again, this is a good starting point, and if you're especially materialistic, you can interpret the "One Thing" as referring to the zero-point energy field, which is from where matter is thought to arise. There's also the "One Mind," but that's a topic for the next post in the series.

The final point is the attitude toward the work:
Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play; make every yoke that you have accepted easy and every burden that you carry light!
The attitude should be one of adventure, wonder and discovery; if it's boring, you're doing it wrong. The example of a child at play is given in the text. Children at play can be very intense, but it's still not work to them. There's a lot we can learn from that.

Well, that's it for this installment. Next I'll be talking about the High Priestess. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Book Review: The Tarot Court Cards

My readings have in general gone well, but I had been having a hard time with the court cards. I recently got a copy of The Tarot Court Cards: Archetypal Patterns of Relationships in the Minor Arcana by Kate Warwick-Smith, and it seems to have helped. The book gives four easy-to-remember keywords for each of the sixteen court cards. I should first mention that this book isn't for beginners. If you're just getting started with tarot, Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners or Tarot Awareness: Exploring the Spiritual Path would be more appropriate.

After some basic history of the court cards, the book gets into the theory underlying the meanings: the four worlds of qabalah. The four worlds are the four steps in creating the universe and everything in it, from archetype down to manifestation. The kings represent the world of archetypes, the queens and knights intermediate steps, the pages the material world. The suits correspond to spirit, love, knowledge and power (in the expected order: wands, cups, swords and pentacles). The combination yields four keywords for each card: two roles, one positive and one negative; and two characteristics. For example, the King of Swords has two roles: adviser and dictator; and two characteristics: pragmatism and ruthlessness. The roles and characteristics also correspond nicely to the positive and negative aspects of the Zodiac signs to which they are attributed (e.g. the King of Swords = Aquarius).

If you are having trouble with court cards in your readings, this book may help.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review: ChristoPaganism

In the minds of some people I know, everything about Christianity is crystal clear. The Bible is literally true and divinely inspired. We can only be saved through Jesus. Some even really believe that the universe was created in six of our days and is about six thousand years old. Astrology is tolerated if it's the superficial newspaper kind, and tarot is right out, what with the risk of demonic possession and all. There's Christianity, and everything else, a.k.a. Paganism, with exceptions for Judaism and possibly Islam. If you happen to be one of those people (and if so, what are you doing here in the first place), you may as well just hit the "Back" button now. What follows will only offend you. Still here? Anyway, you've been warned.

There doesn't seem to be any room in this view for any common ground with other religions, especially under the literal interpretation of Christianity and its Holy Book. But as we grow beyond the literal interpretation, and read about other traditions, we do find some common ground. This is the subject of ChristoPaganism: an Inclusive Path by Joyce and River Higginbotham. The book explores some common factors (and, yes, there are some) between Christianity and Paganism, but mostly talks about people who include elements of both paths in their spiritual practices.

Let's talk about paths for a minute. As most of you who have been following along know, there's just one ultimate goal: realization of unity with the Divine. The Christian Hermetic path, which I'm following, is just one way to reach this goal. The Christian Mystic path is just as valid, as are others. What's more, the paths approach each other as they move toward the top of the mountain.

But back to the book. The most interesting part is the second half, which has interviews with people who are following various combined paths. They talk about their backgrounds, their current path, and how they reconcile the two components. There's an interesting anecdote from one of the authors that I'd like to discuss briefly. She was giving a talk about Paganism to a class in a Catholic school and was asked to explain what immanence meant. She compared it to the Consecration of the Host in the Catholic Mass, which deeply offended the teacher, because the author was comparing the most holy part of the mass to a pagan concept. On reading this, I smelled a rat and did a Google search on "immanence catechism". Sure enough, it was there. The teacher, of course, should have known this. I only mention this because one of my pet peeves is people who have strongly-voice opinions on subjects they know little to nothing about.

So what's my opinion on the subject on the book? It's best expressed by a quote from The 21 Lessons of Merlyn: A Study in Druid Magic and Lore: "the one God has many faces."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Book Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a classic Hero's Journey as described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Bollingen Series). As in American Gods: A Novel and Anansi Boys, the protagonist starts out leading an unsatisfying life that is turned upside down by unexpected events, goes through an eventful journey, and comes out a changed person on the other side. This is the classic initiation experience, and that is why Mr. Gaiman's books are so important to us as recovering materialists. We must all make our own journey through the dark wood, and the science fiction and fantasy novels (and The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso)) give us roadmaps for doing so.

The book is set in modern London, and the main character's job was so dull that I don't even remember what it was. He was engaged to a socialite who obviously wasn't right to him, so the events that start the story seem to me to be no great loss. I don't want to give away any more of the plot, so let's just say it resembles the Tower tarot card. And like the other of his books that I've read, the process of reading it cuts you to pieces and puts you back together in a shamanic-type experience.

Anyway, read the book. At the very least, Dante's Inferno won't seem nearly so scary afterward.