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.

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