Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Meditations on the Tarot: The Chariot

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, I've got behind on my blogging with Meditations on the Tarot; I've read up to partway through The Hermit. While my voice is out of commission for doing recordings (I've got a persistent dry cough, and it's turned my voice all husky), I thought I'd catch up a little.

The Chariot, says the Unknown Friend, represents both the person who has triumphed over the three temptations and remained faithful to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and also the fourth temptation: to act in one's own name, to consider oneself a master rather than a servant.

The Chariot represents the person who is not moved by the three temptations, but instead is able to set forces in motion. The UF says:
That which is above being as that which is below, renunciation below sets in motion forces of accomplishment above and the renunciation of that which is above sets in motion forces of accomplishment below.
(Which seems to have a contradiction in it, to me, but never mind.)

So this, he says, is one of the laws of sacred magic: If you desire something and then renounce it, in line with the three sacred vows, the result is what the Gospels call a "reward in heaven". This is why, when the Son of Man had faced the three temptations and triumphed, "angels came and ministered to him".

Because the Chariot is the seventh arcanum, the UF links it to the seven archetypal miracles of John's gospel (water to wine, the healing of the nobleman's son, the paralysed man at the pool of Bethesda, the feeding of the 5000, walking on the water, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus) and the seven aspects of the Master's Name: "I am the true vine," "I am the way, the truth and the life," "I am the door," "I am the bread of life," "I am the good shepherd," "I am the light of the world," and "I am the resurrection and the life." In these, he revealed the glory of God.

However, there is also a mastership which reveals one's own glory, in which one comes in one's own name, and this is a serious spiritual danger. It is a "mystical megalomania", says the UF. It's not only what John Cassian discussed (as per A Mind at Peace) as "pride" and "vainglory"; it's more serious than that. Jung called it "inflation": exaggerated importance attached to oneself (which gives one a task to work on oneself), exaggerated superiority over others (which is a trial to be overcome), tending to obsession and finally megalomania (which is a catastrophe).

Jung's individuation is characterized by the creation of a new centre of the personality, in which the unconscious is being transformed into consciousness (the true self, second body etc. which the theosophers and Jacob Needleman and Cynthia Bourgeault talk about). This occurs by establishing a collaboration between conscious and unconscious, which occurs in the realm of symbol and through the awakening of the archetypes. The danger is that one may come to identify one's consciousness or ego with the archetype, for example, with the hero. This leads to inflation (or to negative inflation, where one is always unable to measure up and thus is a suffering hero). In inflation, a consciousness of superiority masks an unconscious inferiority, and in negative inflation vice versa. The initiation known as individuation involves transcending this identification of the archetype and the ego and a shifting of the centre of personality from the ego to the self.

This is the danger that attends a person seeking depth, something that the monastic orders are well aware of (hence their focus on genuine humility, which is neither inflationary nor deflationary but a reminder of the monk's finitude before God). The UF considers this a far greater danger than black magic or madness in the pursuit of occult or esoteric practice. The three stages he has noted repeatedly in his acquaintances are, first, self-assurance and informality in speaking of "higher and sacred things"; then, "knowing better" and "knowing all", the attitude of a master towards everyone; and finally, considering oneself infallible.

The monastic solution, mentioned by Mary Margaret Funk in A Mind at Peace and recommended also by the UF as the only solution he is aware of, is "ora et labora" - prayer and work. He says:
It is necessary to worship what is above us and it is necessary to participate in human effort in the domain of objective facts in order to be able to hold in check the illusions concerning what one is and what one is capable of.
This is to hold it in check; to actually overcome it, he says, one must have the experience of "concretely meeting" a being higher than oneself. "Authentic experience of the Divine makes one humble; he who is not humble has not had authentic experience of the Divine."

So the Charioteer in the sense of a warning is the megalomaniac with his false triumph, and the canopy separates him from God; but in the sense of an ideal, the Charioteer is the one who has become his or her own master, who has mastered himself or herself, in the sense of overcoming the three temptations and also the fourth, which is pride. In this case, the canopy is his awareness of not being God.

The breastplate is there to keep the Charioteer sane in the intoxicating mystical experience of union with Nature; the crown is to keep him sane in the sober mystical experience of union with the transcendental Self; and the canopy is to keep him sane in the third mystical experience, both intoxicating and sobering, of union with God. He does not lose himself in nature, does not lose God in experiencing his higher Self, and does not lose nature or the world in experiencing the love of God. He is a master not because he is "over" all the forces of the world but because in him all the forces are in balance and equilibrium (or health). In particular, he has the astral body, composed of the forces of the seven planets, in balance - he has broken what the theosophers refer to as the "astral shell", where one's planetary influences dominate one. To put it another way, he has transcended his own personality and balanced its powerful tendencies by gaining integration within the Self.

And the following arcanum, Justice, is specifically the arcanum of this balance.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Technology Disappointment

I've been waiting nearly three weeks for my Griffin iMic to arrive - I thought from Australia, since I bought it on eBay Australia, but it turns out that the company is American and it shipped from Germany.

It finally got here yesterday, and I plugged it in today to try it out - and was bitterly disappointed. The iMic is basically an analog-to-digital converter, meaning that it takes the analog input of a microphone (or tape deck, record player etc.) and converts it to a digital signal which goes into the computer via a USB port.

The idea is that this gives a cleaner input signal with less noise. If you plug your microphone into the microphone port on your computer, it's going through an analog to digital converter in your soundcard, which is sitting there among all the other computer components picking up noise from them. Having an external ADC is supposed to remove that problem, meaning nice clean sound input.

Not in this case, though. Anything I run through the iMic sounds like there's a jackhammer working in the background. It's far, far noisier than when I just go through the sound card.

There's nothing in the FAQ on Griffin's site. I've emailed the company I bought it from to see if they can suggest anything, but I very much fear I've got a faulty unit and will have to ship it back to them, probably at my cost, and wait weeks for a replacement.

I've been waiting for this gear so that I could start making good professional recordings to sell on my website. I may just start recording anyway, since I have a better microphone now (an Audio Technica ATR35s, which is about the cheapest mic AudioTechnica make but still a very good one).

The iMic came with a trial version of GoldWave recording software, which has several features I've been missing in Audacity (parametric EQ and the ability to chain effects together in a kind of macro, plus removal of long silences - since I pause a lot when I'm recording, that's useful). So I'm going to give that a whirl and see if the relatively small amount of noise I get off the ATR35s can be adequately dealt with in software. If so, I may just ask for a refund on the iMic.

UPDATE: Yes, I can pretty much cut all the noise out using GoldWave. But I just tried the iMic again and the guy with the pneumatic drill is gone as mysteriously as he appeared. (Probably noise from the hard drive being picked up by the USB port for some reason.) However, the input is very quiet and the output keeps muting itself for some reason - so we're not out of the woods yet. The input is clean, no noise, but not very much signal either.

UPDATE 2 (15/11): I've been emailing back and forth today with Griffin tech support, and they've offered to ship me a new unit, which is very good after-sales support (and I told them so). They've taken a lot of time to understand the issue and suggested some sensible tests. It appears that they think the unit is faulty.

Further bulletins as events warrant - but even if it turns out that my microphone and the iMic just aren't meant to work together, I'm a happy customer in a service sense.

UPDATE 3 (20/11): The new unit arrived this morning, but, sadly, is no better. Actually it's a little worse, it introduces an annoying high-pitched hum into the audio, but you can really only hear that when you amplify the sound - it's just as quiet as the old unit. I made a demo of the sound through the sound card, the old unit, and the new unit. (The old one is silver; the new one is their version 2 product, which is white, smaller, and has a label on the "mic/line" switch.)

I tested with three different microphones in four different USB ports on two different laptops; the only thing which makes a difference is whether I record via the laptop's built-in soundcard (normal volume) or the iMic (unacceptably quiet volume).

My plan at the moment is to pay them for it and sell them both on TradeMe, since it seems they're not defective units as such, they're just no good for what I wanted them for. (Update: They refused my offer of payment.)

Back to recording through the soundcard and filtering out the hiss in software. (When I amplify the sound recorded through the iMic, I can hear just as much hiss as when I record directly through the soundcard.)

Technology problems like this are my least favourite thing to deal with. At least their customer service was good, though.

Monday, 12 November 2007

What I've been reading

I haven't posted for a while, so here's an update on what I've been reading.

I have about three more letters from Meditations on the Tarot to blog about, but they take a little while, so I'm waiting until I'm finished my online shop for hypno.co.nz. (That's what I've been working on in my spare time lately.)

While we were in LA I bought several books at Brand Books, an excellent little second-hand bookshop in Glenfield. One of them was New Techniques in Behavior Therapy and Hypnosis: Including Advanced Techniques in Sex Therapy by Arreed F. Barabasz, written while he was lecturing at Canterbury University (30 years ago, so the "new" isn't applicable any more). There's some good stuff on migraine which I'll make use of (basically you teach people to warm their hands, since that shifts blood flow away from the head, and too much blood flow in the head is part of the problem). There are also some useful ideas on systematic desensitization for phobias. The sex therapy material is mostly either things I already knew or things that would require me to be a doctor to put into practice, but there's also a section on sleep disorders with one or two useful points.

I'm partway through John Crowley's LITTLE, BIG; I've kind of got bogged down in the tragic story of Auberon and Sylvie. It's one of those books that's really well written but I don't necessarily enjoy all of. I've read it before; I don't remember whether I finished it then or not. Possibly not, since all I can recall is the very early scene where Smoky and Daily Alice go off on their honeymoon walking trip. I'd forgotten how much sex it has in it, and forgotten that there were drugs in it at all (no rock-and-roll, though). I've been stalled on it for a while, reading other things, but I do intend to finish.

A book that does include rock-and-roll is Russ Haines' Digital Audio: Record | Rip | Edit | Mix | Master | Burn | Stream, which although it was published in 2001 is still a very valuable resource, because unlike so many technical books it gives underlying principles, not specifics of using rapidly outdated tools. In fact, he emphasizes that the (software) tools you use don't particularly matter; there are several of them, find one you like and learn to use it well, they're much of a muchness as far as the basics are concerned. I want to summarize this one fully from the perspective of voice recording and post the results to my hypnotherapy site (since this is why I got it from the library: to learn how to make better recordings that I can sell in my new online shop). I'm waiting for a device he recommends, an analog-to-digital converter, to reach me from Australia, and it's taking forever. (Australia Post were slow when I lived there 17 years ago, and apparently are still slow. You'd think that for $9 they'd be able to move a small package 1200km in less than two weeks.) Once I have that I'll go through the book again.

On the spiritual side, two things. I've finally got round to Sister Mary Margaret Funk's A Mind at Peace, which I must have had in the "to-read" queue for over a year. It summarizes the teaching of John Cassian, who collected a lot of sayings from the Desert Fathers in the 5th century, on meditation and dealing with the "eight thoughts": food, sex, things, anger, dejection, acedia (spiritual weariness), vainglory and pride. Andrew has been using it in his Centering Prayer workshops for a while now. The writing itself is not tremendously well organized and is quite poorly edited, but the ideas are useful. I just finished the Sex chapter this morning, and already the book is making a difference. The basic principle, as with Centering Prayer, is to be aware of the eight thoughts (thus making them mindful rather than mindless), and then "renounce" them, or as Centering Prayer more helpfully says, let them go, so that they don't carry you where you don't want to go. It has a handy appendix with a number of different practices listed and briefly explained.

And speaking of Centering Prayer, Andrew lent me his copy of Love Is Stronger Than Death: The Mystical Union of Two Souls by Cynthia Bourgeault last week. I didn't quite finish it before I had to pass it on to Julianne, but it's interesting. We've been reading her books in reverse order, first Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, which borders on being orthodox (albeit in a slightly unusual mode), then The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming An Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart, which is definitely esoteric, and now this, her first book, which is very unusual indeed. She believes (and may be correct in believing, I'm not in a position to say) that she still has a powerful, living connection with her late teacher, a hermit monk with whom she shared a (non-physical) love affair which surprised both of them. Together they formed a "second body" which, she claims, persisted and continues to develop after his death.

Finally, I'm currently reading, and very much enjoying, Charles Stross's Glasshouse. Damn, this thing is good. Future society, nanoassemblers, ability to upload yourself, change your body, and - this is important - change your mental "state vector", i.e. the contents and pattern of your mind. Someone infected all the assemblers with the Curious Yellow information virus, which censored everyone's memories of the past as they went through the assemblers (to change bodies, heal, de-age or whatever) and made them vectors of the virus to the next assembler. A major war was fought to destroy Curious Yellow and "clean" those affected. During this war, people did terrible things, some of which they then had memory surgery to forget about. One such is the protagonist, who along with others in a similar situation volunteers for a sociological experiment, a recreation of the long-gone society of the late 20th/early 21st century, as best it can be reconstructed from fragmentary records - which is kind of 1950s suburbia (with strongly defined gender roles) plus a mixture of technologies from various eras. All, though, is not as it seems...

For its handling of gender alone, this novel deserves an award (in fact, I just took a moment to nominate it for the James Tiptree, Jr Award, and I'll be surprised if I'm the first to do so). (EDIT: I wasn't.) But it's also incredibly well written and gripping, real mind-expanding "what if" science fiction. Stross is finally learning to keep his tremendous intellect and immense knowledge in the background, dialled down to a level where lesser beings can still understand - something like what Connie Willis and Neal Stephenson have learned to do - and it makes it even better than his earlier books, because for almost all of the time I know what the hell he's talking about. It has the disturbing presence and depth of Neil Gaiman, than which I have no higher praise to offer.