Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Meditations on the Tarot: The Emperor

The Emperor, says the Unknown Friend, is a symbol of authority - which he distinguishes from force or power. The Emperor doesn't bear a sword, but a sceptre; he has renounced compulsion and violence. In fact, his authority is shown by what he has actively renounced. "He has renounced ease, being not seated. He has renounced walking, being in a leaning position and having his legs crossed. He may neither advance in order to take the offensive, nor move back in order to retreat... he is a guardian bound to his post." He has renounced movement and action, by the position of his legs and arms. His belt restrains his instinctive nature, and his heavy crown painfully restrains his thought and arbitrary imagination, for it is a crown of thorns, the sign not only of his legitimacy but of a mission from above. It is not a personal mission; it is a mission symbolized by the throne, against which the shield rests.

These four renunciations establish a fourfold emptiness, into which the fourfold divine name YHWH, source of authority, can enter. His personal intellectual initiative is renounced in favour of divine initiative; his action and movement are renounced and replaced by the action of divine revelation and the movement of divine magic; his personal mission, his name, is renounced and replaced with authority, law and order. This leads the UF to a long digression on free will and divine power which I won't go into as there's nothing that strikes me as particularly new about it, until he gets to the idea of tzimtzum, the withdrawal of God, taught by Lurianic Kabbala.

God, according to this idea, had to withdraw in order to make a void within himself where creation - and hence freedom - could come into existence, and the Emperor imitates this action. In doing so, he enables the complete divine name to manifest through him, the complete authority of God, the post of the Emperor, "the state of consciousness of the complete synthesis of mysticism, gnosis and sacred magic", initiation. That is, the state of consciousness in which the temporal and eternal are one and are simultaneously visible. This sanctification of the Divine Name in humanity is the deeper meaning of the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, "hallowed be thy name".

Another digression, this time on Hermetic philosophy, concludes: "its teaching... consists of spiritual exercises and all its arcana (including the Arcana of the Tarot) are practical spiritual exercises, whose aim is to awaken from sleep ever-deeper layers of consciousness." The Gospels are also spiritual exercises, for participation, not just scrutiny. "The aim of spiritual exercises is depth. It is necessary to become deep in order to be able to attain experience and knowledge of profound things. And it is symbolism which is the language of depth - thus arcana, expressed by symbols, are both the means and the aim of the spiritual exercises of which the living tradition of Hermetic philosophy is composed." After a digression on reincarnation - which he sees as God giving multiple opportunities to begin again - he states, "An arcanum practised as a spiritual exercise for a sufficient length of time becomes an aptitude. It does not give the pupil knowledge of new facts, but makes him suited to acquire such knowledge when he has need of it... The initiate is one who knows how to attain knowledge, i.e. who knows how to ask, seek and put into practice the appropriate means in order to succeed... Spiritual exercises alone have taught him." He calls this the arcanum of the three united endeavours (ask, seek, knock), which lead to receiving, finding and gaining access.

The Emperor is thus the one who has authority because he represents humanity before God. He is not superhuman, but more human than anyone else and so is worthy to guard the Throne of David. In becoming fully human, he is also being transformed into the image and likeness of God; in renouncing the four arbitrary liberties of humanity, he is crucified, wounded with four wounds.

This is a complicated and digression-filled letter with multiple points which, ironically, don't appear fully integrated (given that the Emperor is the fully integrated man). The most immediately valuable to me are the side points about spiritual exercises as preparation for knowledge, making you the kind of person who can know. A spiritual exercise in which we renounce intellectual initiative, movement, action and personal missions - in which we sit silent and still and listen - is therefore preparation for us to be filled with knowledge of God, to become truly ourselves, truly human and in the image of God. This, then, is the purpose of Centering Prayer.

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