Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Meditations on the Tarot: The Lover

Although I haven't been reading Meditations on the Tarot lately, I am one chapter behind on my blogging, so this is me catching up.

The card which the Unknown Friend calls The Lover is usually referred to as The Lovers. In the Marseilles Tarot (though not in Rider-Waite), there is a third figure of a temptress besides the male and female couple and the Cupid figure, and the UF refers this to the temptress of Proverbs chapter 7, while the pure bride is Wisdom of Proverbs 8.

"The central theme of the sixth Arcanum is therefore that of the vow of chastity", and it summarizes the three vows in opposition to the three temptations, those of Christ in the wilderness. The vows and temptations total six, the number of the card, linked to the symbol of the hexagram or Solomon's Seal.

The three vows hark back to Paradise, where man was united with God in obedience, with the world in poverty (that is, possession of everything while laying hold of nothing in particular), and with his companion in chastity, total communion and wholeness in love, living unity.

The problem of love of one's neighbour is this: "Rather than knowing that they really exist and that they are as much alive as we ourselves, it nevertheless appears to us that they have a less real existence and that they are less living than we ourselves... Our thoughts tell us that this is an illusion... all the same we feel ourselves at the centre of reality, and we feel other beings to be removed from this centre... Now, to feel something as real in the measure of its full reality is to love."

The UF identifies two approaches to overcoming the illusion that "I am living while you are a shadow". The first, the Eastern method, is to extend indifference, shadowness, also to oneself. But the other method is to extend the love that one has for oneself to other beings, so that one regards both as equally living. To begin, one must love the closest person, one's neighbour.

This is the reverse of Freudianism (as Needleman also points out). Freud sees sexual desire as the basis of all human psychological activity, but sexual desire is only one, separated portion of the totality of love. It is the wholeness of love that is chastity.

Where Needleman goes with this is that problems develop when self-knowledge becomes less interesting than sexual fulfilment. And indeed, the UF next talks about self-knowledge. He sees the biblical account of Eden as describing the essential foundation of our human being, in symbolic language. Through "enstasy", descent into one's own foundational depths, one experiences the image and likeness of God spoken of in Genesis, by the means of "the sense of spiritual touch". This is the first initiatory experience.

The second is through the sense of spiritual hearing, and is by ecstasy - with reference to Pythagoras and his ideas of religious ecstasy, the music of the spheres, and cosmology. He concludes, "Ecstasy to the heights beyond oneself and enstasy into the depths within oneself lead to knowledge of the same fundamental truth. Christian esotericism unites these two methods of initiation." He gives the Gospel of John as an example of this combination of height and depth, the macrocosmic solar sphere and the microcosmic solar layer, the cosmic heart and the human heart. And Paradise is a name for both of these, the realm of beginnings and principles and initiation.

Now, the three temptations. The first is that of power, listening to the voice of the Serpent who says "You shall be like God"; the autonomy of consciousness which now knows good and evil for itself, instead of knowing all things through God; which now knows itself naked (separate from God). It is a refusal of obedience because it puts the voice of the serpent (or the self) on the same level as the voice of God, which said not to eat of the tree, and obedience is based on submission to what is highest. It is doubt, the entry of an alternative to listening to God.

The second temptation is to look at the tree and prepare to have experience, to experiment and act for oneself in order to dispel the doubt, which is the beginning of greed and the loss of poverty.

Finally, Eve took of the fruit (plunging into experience) and ate, and gave some to her husband (involving the other), thus losing chastity. Rather than waiting for the gracious revelation from God, she took. (I have to admit I don't totally follow the connection to chastity, and I think he's just completing the pattern as best he can here.)

The UF then has a long digression on grace, which I won't go into here. Likewise his long digression on egregores, which are phantoms, emergent forces or artificial beings engendered by collective consciousness (such as political ideologies), rather than realities revealed from God on high. He resumes on page 140 with a description of the law of God as grace and the law of the serpent as "the triad of the will to power, the 'groping trial' and the transformation of that which is gross into that which is subtle."

He then speaks of the three temptations of Christ. Hunger is the experience of poverty, and the temptation to transform the lower (stones) into the higher (bread), rather than taking life from on high. The temptation to throw himself down from the temple is the temptation of the "groping trial", whereupon he expresses some peculiar views on biological evolution (he sees it as authored and directed by the serpent, which seems odd). This is the temptation of chastity (again, I don't totally follow this).

The temptation of the kingdoms of the world is, of course, the temptation of power and directed against obedience.

Basically, what the UF seems to be getting at here is that there are two ways: we can begin with the lower, with ourselves, with what is emergent, and attempt to build it up to something great (the modern ideas of evolution and progress), or we can ask and allow God to send grace down to us.

I remember after reading part of this over breakfast being struck by the consonance with my little daily liturgy which I say in the shower:

I want to listen, to what is highest and best, to all people, to everything that exists, to my own body and my true self, that I may understand and love more deeply.
I think this was because of the themes of enstasy and self-understanding under God as a basis for love.

I feel like I've kind of lost the thread of the UF's argument now. When I finish Needleman I'm planning to go back to Meditations on the Tarot in the hope that I can recapture it.

Lost Christianity

Further quotes from Needleman's Lost Christianity. These come, supposedly, from a mysterious Middle Eastern monk called Father Sylvan, about whose actual existence I'm a little skeptical. But what he says is spot on:

It is not demanded of us that we always be in the state of the heart which grants us vision and self-mastery. It is only demanded of us that we know the state we are in.

And, speaking of the reason that Christianity turns mysticism into persecution of heretics:

The causes of religious violence...lie in [the] tendency to leap impatiently from metaphor to symbol. One struggles to live according to the Teaching and gradually a certain level of understanding is reached. One begins to feel and know, to a certain degree, how important the Teaching is to forgets that I myself need the Teaching even more than the world does.

And, on reform:

If we would infuse new life into Christianity, it is necessary first and last, to occupy the body of the old Christianity, just as Christ occupied the body of the old Adam... Criticism is not the point. Presence is the point, awareness of the gap separating the ideas and the actual situation...But who is there who can occupy the tradition in order to reconstruct the teaching? Where are the few Christians who can become, so to say, the "subtle body" of the Church?...It can only begin with individuals who can occupy their own being... Only in rare moments can I be toward myself what I wish to be toward the tradition. And if I cannot be a forgiver of myself, how shall the power of forgiveness ever enter toward Christendom itself?

Monday, 24 September 2007

What I'm reading

It's not unusual for me to be reading two or three books at once. I usually have one "recreational" and sometimes one "serious" book by my bed, and a "serious" book in the lounge that I read over breakfast (that is, in short sections and at a time in the day when my head is clearer than last thing at night).

At the moment, though, for various reasons I'm reading five (six if you count Meditations on the Tarot, the reading of which has paused for now).

Until yesterday my breakfast book was Leslie LeCron's Experimental Hypnosis, a classic in its field (I like to own classics in the fields I'm interested in). I mainly bought it for Milton Erickson's chapter on time distortion, but there's some other good stuff in it too. Because it's so old (originally published 1948 - 60 years ago!) a lot of what's in it is just common knowledge in hypno circles now, but by no means all.

(Where are today's books like this, and like Altered States of Consciousness by Charles Tart - collections of leading-edge research, by scientists, but accessible to a wider audience?)

My current breakfast book is the next one for our occasional Cityside book group: Lost Christianity by Jacob Needleman. It's an odd book, one secular-Jewish philosophy professor's very heartfelt search for the "lost Christianity" that he is sure must be out there somewhere - the one that "actually produces real change in human nature, real transformation". Sadly, I have to agree with him that that one has been lost - though also, more hopefully, that it's worth looking for.

Key quote:

I, as a professional philosopher, had long since been forced to accept that philosophical ideas by themselves change nothing in the life of an individual... through [intellectualism] modern man squanders his attention in the intellectual function while remaining cut off from the emotional and instinctual sides of his nature...

My "serious" bedside book currently is Sharon Begley's Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain - the title has an obvious relevance to my "Change Your Mind" course. It's about "neuroplasticity", the phenomenon whereby not just the content but the structure of brains is subject to change, and is based around one of the Dalai Lama's Word and Life Conferences on that topic. Begley has a slightly annoying habit of comparing an idealized Buddhism to a misconstrued Christianity, to the latter's detriment, and an also slightly annoying habit of using flashy similes in an attempt to communicate to a popular audience - though it's not anything like as annoying as the hearty stupid folksiness of a "For Dummies" book. But the research itself is fascinating, the experiments are well described and the implications carefully teased out. Basically, by concentrated attention we can change how our brains work, including making ourselves more compassionate and accepting towards others. This is definitely good news.

My two "recreational" books at the moment are George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones and Darby Conley's latest Get Fuzzy treasury, LoserPalooza. LoserPalooza is as funny as Get Fuzzy usually is, that is, very funny. I use it to relax and cheer myself up. I'm having trouble getting into A Game of Thrones; it's not really my kind of fantasy. As the Amazon review says, " There is much bloodshed, cruelty, and death", which I should have expected given that I picked it up (off a sale shelf in Vroman's Bookshop in Pasadena) based on a vague memory of it being mentioned a few times on Story-Games. I love the Story-Games folks, but they do tend to the bloodshed, cruelty and death end of things in their tastes a lot of the time. I may put it aside and come back to it later.

In a burst of confidence that anyone will read these meanderings, I've used my Amazon Associates ID to do the links and put one of Amazon's new widgets in my (now rather crowded) sidebar. I promise if I get any money for directing buyers to Amazon's site that I will spend it on books, which I will then review.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Character creation comes third

I've started to work out a sequence for starting up a Pentasystem game. So far, it looks like this:

  1. Pull out the coolmap and decide what themes on it engage you. Add in others, by all means.
  2. Find which entities connect to those themes, and divide up ownership of them among the players.
  3. Create main characters and give them motivating attributes that link to the themes and entities.
  4. Create supporting characters that are connected to the main characters and that put a face on the entities. Probably do this with an R-map. Make sure you build in some conflict ("family is important to me, I hate heretics, my brother-in-law is a heretic").
  5. Add motivating attributes to the main characters which connect them to the supporting characters.
  6. Create some situations, as gateways, which will act as "inciting incidents" to the main characters you have - features of the world-as-it-is that they can't ignore but will need to try to change, just because of who they are. Make sure, as well, that the things that can bring about change are things the characters are uniquely equipped to do.
  7. Engaging, conflict-filled gameplay ensues. Or such would be my assumption.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Wisdom's Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition

I'm reading Wisdom's Children by Arthur Versluis at the moment. It traces the obscure history of "theosophy" - not Madam Blavatsky's theosophy, but the Protestant mystical tradition of that name - starting from Jacob Boehme, though acknowledging the older tradition of which he was a part. I'm up to Part 2, which is about the foundational doctrines of theosophy, and here's my summary of Chapters 8-11 (with some of my own insights and speculations added).

There are three worlds, corresponding to the three persons of the Trinity. There is the "wrath world", the world of dark fire, or Hell. There is the elemental world, the one we see around us. And there is the world of love and light, or Paradise.

Initially these three worlds were in balance. The wrath world, which is a world of separation and finitude, was necessary to bring creation into being (basically the Kabbalistic idea of tzimtzum). It arose from God's desire to have an other. Out of the separation of the darkness (the wrath world) from the light (the love world) came the creation of the elemental world. Unlike the early Gnostics, the theosophers did not see the elemental world as an evil creation of a demiurge but the good creation of God.

But Lucifer fell from the love world into the wrath world through his pride and self-will, and through the temptation of Adam and Eve brought wrath and darkness, separation and death, up into the elemental world. (All of this is seen as "spiritual symbolism for events with real consequences, not history".)

Christ's incarnation into the elemental world, however, brought love into that world just as the Fall had brought wrath, and by his death and resurrection he showed the way to Paradise: the transformation of wrath into love, darkness into light, separation into union, death into eternal life. Eventually, the separation of the three worlds will again be complete, redeeming the whole universe, and shutting away wrath, death and darkness forever from the elemental world.

We, however, participate in this process all the time; we are a microcosm of this macrocosm. If we are actively transforming wrath into love, and passively receiving the grace of God for this purpose and aligning ourselves with God's will (which are different ways of phrasing the same thing), we are fitting ourselves for the light world of union, Paradise. On the other hand, if we are abiding in wrath, or worse still transforming love into wrath, we are fitting ourselves for the dark world of separation.

Salvation, then, is not the acceptance of an historical atonement at one point in the past, but the enacting of an eternal atonement in the continuous present - a view which drew much wrath on the theosophers from the conventional religious authorities.

Versluis is casting out fascinating hints on how this works in practice, which are sounding like centering prayer. I'm looking forward to reading more.