Friday, 3 August 2007

Meditations on the Tarot: The Pope

The fifth card of the Major Arcana is the Pope, in the act of benediction. The Unknown Friend defines benediction as "the putting into action of divine power transcending the individual thought and will of the one who is blessed as well as the one who is pronouncing the blessing". Blessing, according to the Kabbala, is part of a circulation like the circulation of the blood; as one acolyte holds his left hand up, prayers rise to God, and as the other holds his right hand down, blessings return to humanity. The two pillars, and the Pope's triple cross and blessing hand, represent the same. They are the pillars of Mercy and Severity.

Prayer can be any kind of vertical longing: the thirst for truth (answered with the benediction of illumination), suffering (answered with the benediction of consolation), and work (answered with benedictions appropriate to the kind of work) are the prayers of the mind, heart and will.

Horizontal respiration is the alternation between outward and inward attention; vertical respiration is as described above, and if it is learned in this life, death (the transition from horizontal to vertical) will lose its sting.

Horizontal respiration has the law "Love your neighbour as yourself"; vertical respiration, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength".

The triple cross (which, apparently, is not on the US Games version of the Marseilles Tarot) shows the three levels or stages of each kind of respiration. Horizontal respiration has the three levels: love of nature, love of neighbour, love of the beings of the spiritual hierarchies; while vertical respiration has three stages: purification by divine breath, illumination by divine light, and mystical union in divine fire. The triple cross has three vertical and three horizontal elements, and is the perfect union of horizontal and vertical.

The UF has, at this point, a digression on the outer roles of Emperor and Pope, and on the "magical deeds and works acting behind the facade of history", which I will ignore because, frankly, it seems a bit crackpot to me. (You may think this whole exercise seems crackpot to you, of course.)

His next idea that I want to talk about is that the Pope guards the threshold or equilibrium between "day" and "night", human effort and divine grace. The Emperor is the King, ruler of the day, the outer world; the Hermit is the Prophet, ruler of the night, the inner world; the Pope is the High Priest, set between.

The UF repeats his point here about different kinds of truth. The Pope represents the kind of truth which is based on harmonious respiration, of moral truth and logic, according to which the earth is the centre of the cosmos because it is the scene of the Incarnation - although in phenomenal truth and factual logic, the earth orbits the sun. Factual truth (veritas, emeth) is in conflict with moral or ideal truth or mercy (misericordia, chesed). This conflict between the ideal ("marriage is indissoluble") and the real ("marriages break up") is the fifth wound which the Pope possesses and the Emperor does not, the wound of the heart.

This is the conflict between the sephira of chesed (mercy) and geburah (severity), resolved in tiphereth (beauty), which is the sephiroth of the heart and the wound of the heart.

The UF now spends several pages quoting other writers on the pentagram, and argues that there is an evil pentagram (the emancipated human will separated from the unity of the will of God, personal arbitrary magic) and a good Pentagram (the emancipated human will united with the will of God, personal sacred magic). These have nothing to do with whether the pentagram is upright or not.

The first operates by force of will, the second by purity of will. Purity of will, in an impure human being, is attained when five things are "nailed" and hence wounded:
  1. The desire to be great (the heart) - male side, great in one's own eyes; female, great in others' eyes;
  2. The desire to take (right hand) - male;
  3. The desire to keep (left hand) - female;
  4. The desire to advance at the expense of others (right foot), to hunt (male);
  5. The desire to hold on to at the expense of others (left foot), to trap (female).
A wound "is a door through which the objective exterior world intrudes into the interior...". By this definition, each of our five senses is a wound, showing us objects external to ourselves which may not be as we wish. And the five organs of action - the four limbs and the head - correspond also to these five wounds, as summarized above, though the fifth wound (of the desire to be great) is not in the head but in the heart, from which it controls the head as its instrument.

"This is why many thinkers and scientists want to think 'without the heart' in order to be objective - which is an illusion, because one can in no way think without the heart, the heart being the activating principle of thought; what one can do is to think with a humble and warm heart instead of with a pretentious and cold heart."
I like that, it's well put.

So, how are the five wounds acquired? Through the practice of poverty, chastity and obedience. Obedience, to nail the will to greatness of the heart (the Usurper); poverty, to nail the hands which desire to take and keep (the Thief); and chastity, to nail the desire to advance and hold on at the expense of others, to hunt and trap, which are the desires of the feet (the Hunter).

Obedience is the natural result of recognising something higher than oneself (something we modern people have particular difficulty with).

Poverty is the practice of inner emptiness, the silence of personal desires, emotions and imagination, so that the soul can receive revelation of the word, the life and the light. It is the perpetual expectation of what is new and unexpected, the readiness to learn and receive, which enables illumination, revelation and initiation.

Here is where I realized that I had got poverty backwards in the Journey in Four Directions. It isn't being "content with what you have" at all; it is recognizing that what you have is empty and that there is better to come. The UF tells a story of four brothers seeking the greatest treasure. The first stops when they find iron, the second when they find copper, the third when they find silver, but the last brother perseveres until he finds gold. All the brothers find wealth that contents them; only the last finds the greatest treasure.

Chastity is living "according to solar law, without covetousness and without indifference. Because virtue is boring and vice is disgusting. But that which lives at the foundation of the heart is neither... [it] is love...." Chastity is the state in which the heart becomes awakened and functions as the sun, the centre, to which the lower centres conform. Chastity is not just about sex; it is about the choice between "solar law and... dulling intoxications". Fanaticism, nationalism, some kinds of occultism, are all unchaste.

Not the full possession of the virtues (impossible in this life), but their practice, is what leads to the five wounds. And this establishes the presence of the good. Good does not fight evil; it either triumphs by being present, or is defeated by being absent.

With a reflection on the stigmata of St Francis, the UF suggests that the function of the wounds is to bring about a change from the natural state (limbo) to the human state (purgatory), and from that to the divine state (paradise). Limbo is innocent nature; purgatory, suffering nature. By bringing the divine into these, the five wounds liberate and reunite.

Now, symbols. The cross, with its four parts, is the symbol of obedience, the unity of horizontal and vertical, and also of faith. The pentacle is the symbol of hope, the vow and virtue of poverty; effort and work, the presence of the divine here below. The hexagram is the symbol of love and of chastity, "the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and Mother, Daughter and Holy Soul". (I couldn't find much on the latter fascinating idea; the book The Most Holy Trinosophia, which uses the phrase, appears to get it from Meditations on the Tarot.)

The UF assigns these to different ages of history: the age of faith, in the Middle Ages; the age of hope, in the Renaissance, which, however, split hope in man off from hope in God, creating the materialistic civilization we now have. The spiritual post of the Pope is to guard the pentagram of the five wounds, the one legitimate way of passing from the cross to the hexagram, ensuring that obedience, poverty and chastity endure in the world. He doesn't talk about the age of love - presumably it is yet to come.

I found this a fascinating chapter, like all of these letters full of ideas, but much better tied together than in the previous chapter (The Emperor). I had at least one "aha!" moment in the re-presentation of poverty as a state in which we recognize our own emptiness, but have hope for attaining fullness - hence "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven". And the concept of the five wounds "nailing" those things in us which prevent our wills from being pure and in alignment with the will of God is an excellent one.

I look forward to further insights in the next letter, The Lover(s).

1 comment:

almariada said...

i liked very much to read this meditation! thank you very much for posting!
this is really great: "virtue is boring and vice is disgusting"
thanks again!