Thursday, 12 July 2007

Meditations on the Tarot: The High Priestess

The High Priestess (or Papesse) in the view of the Unknown Friend is concerned with initiation, with "two-ness", and with wisdom. He contrasts the idea of an initiation which is depersonalizing (as taught by the masters before Jesus) with an initiation which, while leaving the personality in existence, fills it with God. If the first Arcanum, the Magician, is concerned with spontaneous action, this second Arcanum is concerned with reflection: "the transformation of the pure act into representation, of representation into memory pictures, of memory pictures into the word, and of the word into written characters or the book" (p. 40; emphasis in the original).

The Magician is standing; he has the practical method of mysticism, for he dares to do. The High Priestess knows, and so she is seated, so that she can project outward, horizontally (through the book) the descending vertical revelation.

The revelation descends in three steps, symbolized by the three levels of the High Priestess's tiara in the Marseilles Tarot. Mystical experience, of the God who is beyond names and forms, is the highest level. From this comes gnosis - mystical experience which is conscious of itself. This descends to magic, gnosis put into practice (of which he has more to say later), and finally to Hermetic philosophy - the book.

"Mysticism", says the UF on p.41, "is the source and the root of all religion. Without it religion and the entire spiritual life of humanity would be only a code of laws regulating human thought and action." Does that sound at all familiar as a description of religion? A tradition, he says, is only living when it is complete, when it is a union of mysticism (direct consciousness of God), gnosis (reflection on and some understanding of the experience of God), magic (putting into practice one's understanding, projecting it into the world), and Hermetic philosophy (making all of this to some degree communicable to others). A philosophical system by itself enslaves: a person who falls victim to the spell of a philosophical system "can no longer see the world, or people, or historic events as they are; he sees everything only through the distorting prism of the system by which he is possessed." He has similar harsh things to say about separated magic, separated gnosis and separated mystical experience.

He relates the four levels to the four worlds of Kabbala, and has an interesting thing to say about reconciling the various views of creation that are around. In the highest world, the world of emanations, pantheism is true; there is only God, and everything is within him. However, in the world of creation - once we leave uncreated eternity - theism is true. Further, in the world of formation, demiurgism - the idea of the Gnostics that physical creation was not the work of the true God but of lesser beings - is true. Finally, in the lowest world, the world of facts, naturalism is true. He uses this to illustrate the difference between the gnostic sense, which is a sense of wholeness or synthesis preceding analysis, with the Hermetic-philosophical sense, which is a sense of a differentiated whole, a synthesis after analysis.

And my reaction to this is what?

Well, I like his emphasis on the necessity to work at all the levels in order to avoid the problems that partial understanding brings. "Creation science", for example, arises from a confusion of levels: a gnostic description is taken as factual. Inevitably it is mocked by those who reject the gnostic level entirely and live only at the level of facts, because it doesn't fit the facts. However, it's a mistake to conclude that this means that the biblical account of creation isn't true. It isn't true at the factual level, but at another level, it and not the factual explanation is the true one.

Only by being, understanding, acting and thinking are we complete in any of those four.

Potentially, you could also relate these to the four Jungian functions: mysticism is sensing, gnosis intuition, magic is feeling (connecting the self and the world), and Hermetic philosophy is thinking. Roughly.

No comments: