By Christine Payne-Towler
ArkLetter 52 -- June 22, 2009
There are a couple of things going on in this essay. First I want to review some new books that have come into my hands. There's always a lot to talk about now that the textbooks of Western Esotericism are being written and the discipline is filling out. But there's no way I can keep up with the barrage of new works, much as I love to keep a tentacle in the water, testing the stream. Excitingly, certain things that I have been watching out for have begun to make themselves apparent in the intellectual marketplace -- there are some very positive developments showing up. I'm going to skip lightly through these things and give them to you in the short form, rather than write my usual labored connect-the-dots article. My hope is always that readers will have their interests ignited and will seek out the relevant researcher's works rather than just trust my personal, opinionated summations.
Then I have some things to discuss about the overarching theme of the essay, which is learning to live the life of a mage, a shaman, an intuitive in present times. This may not be a goal for everybody, but due to certain contingencies of collective life on this planet right now, people are discovering that their subtle senses are becoming more acute every year that goes by. My own life has been driven at every stage by the consequences of being a sensitive -- at this point it pretty much shapes every decision I make, including what I’m writing about here. So if the shoe fits, you are invited to wear it.
What's true is that a whole new landscape is appearing to modern consciousness, a deeply embedded primordial worldview which has for millennia given form and rhythm to the superficial historical narrative we learned about in school. Investigators from various disciplines are penetrating beyond the facade of history and in the process are now encountering the scaffolding that underpins all the local and temporal differences. It is becoming abundantly apparent that esotericism is one of the first occupations and longest enduring institutions of human culture, due to our species’ intimate immersion in and relationship to the lunation cycle, the elements, the seasons, the zodiac and the planets of our solar system. Common knowledge of the esoteric paradigm (i.e. Hermetic visualization of the cosmos; number-letters; sacred geometry and harmonic ratios) may rise and fall relative to the moving target of collective consciousness over time, but the issues that esotericism addresses never entirely disappear, because the moving heavens and the living Earth never cease to provide a rhythm that seems to carry human history along as well.
Recently I moved my library around. The task was to refine the ordering of books to reflect the unfolding discussions in our field. Doing so caused me to ruminate on the parallelisms between the esoteric disciplines of the ages. I was simultaneously re-reading through Harold Bloom's Omens of Millennium as I do every year. Having these two things going at once really drove home for me the fractal nature of the world's religions and esoteric paradigms. When the multiple related but highly individuated traditions are superimposed (as Bloom does so effortlessly), certain issues arise over and over, representing as they do the common substrate of human experience. This is the area that holds most interest for me, because it is at the baseline, standing on common ground, where we might be able to discern the direction(s) that human evolution is unfolding.
There are certainly different ways of testing the above theory, but the defining proof of our common foundations came in the form of Stephen Skinner's The Complete Magicians Tables. Skinner found it possible, necessary, and sufficient to collate his global assemblage of symbolic, magical and esoteric paradigms from the world's cultures under an essentially simple master Key. Using categories of 10 (Numbers), 5 (Elements, 3 pure and 2 mixed, sometimes expanded to include an Underworld), 7 (Planets) and 12 (Signs) Skinner has demonstrated that there is only one Mystery, and all the divergences and variations show themselves to be more matters of vocabulary and local cultural usage than essential differences based on core concepts.
This is by no means an unreserved plug for Skinner's Tables. He commits what is to me a cardinal Tarot sin: he integrates OGD (Order of the Golden Dawn) material all through a historical presentation of true esoteric tradition, and further he makes it hard for the neophyte to discern what parts of his graphs actually come to us from antiquity versus those parts that were imposed upon history after the fact. Astoundingly, he also repeats the long-discredited nasty rumor that the body of correspondences shared by Eliphas Levi in his writings about magic is "blinded" in a way that called forth the revisionist Tarots from the English stream to correct the record. (p. 420) How long will this charade persist? Given what is evident upon the face of historical tradition, Levi was a fount of traditional fidelity compared to Mathers, Waite, Crowley and their wake!
So, then, should you add this volume to your collection, just realize that the Tarot segment is basically useless unless you are working with an English-style deck, or unless you know how to make the conversions to the traditional values. (There are a few interesting Tarot tables, in particular pp. 225-226, where the emblem sets of the Mantegna icons are compared against the emblem sets of the Tarot Trumps.) Also, keep in mind that Skinner superimposes the OGD Path Numbers into every list he's collating, whatever the source, as he has this preference built right into his Key (instead of letting the numbers stand for themselves, which would be the historically-correct practice.) This is what allows him to skip over the one-to-one connection that has for centuries existed between the Trumps and their standard numbers, which link back to every ancient sacred alphabet (such as Hebrew, Latin or Greek). Because Skinner made this choice to dis-include the first 500 years of Tarot decks in his compendium, the book reveals itself to be deceptively flawed, though still representing a tremendous labor of love. By making this choice, Skinner reduced his contribution to being yet another OGD attempt to inscribe the patchwork of modern occult revisionism over the top of longstanding reality. Skinner might more honestly have spelled the titled Magician with a 'k', for truth in labeling.
(Sigh... I don't get it! Why bother learning the traditions in the first place if one is going to flout them, misrepresent them or bend them irreversibly in practice?)
Let's look on the bright side anyway, just to be ornery. We can see that even though Skinner is no partisan of traditional Tarot (or Tradition either, except as it serves his occult politics), he still couldn't find a more fitting way to display the worldwide conventions of magic than by organizing his tables within these governing esoteric categories -- numbers, signs, planets and elements. As I have stated unreservedly starting a decade ago, these are the categories that also determine the internal structure of Tarot. Skinner has demonstrated this anew by piling up the world's varied pantheons, symbol-sets, esoteric disciplines and mythic correspondences, demonstrating beyond question that they all resolve down to same numbers, letters, signs, planets and elements. Whether we are talking about alchemy, kabala, astrology, runes, magic, talismanics, geomancy, the god forms of various tribes and cultures, or any other reality-model, the core Mystery is shared, communal. AND it is astro-alpha-numeric. It appears there's very little room for seeing things in any other light.
This same message also comes through from the excellent and condensed little monograph, The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual by Timothy Hogan. Ultimately, everybody is doing the same thing, from the shamans in the caves, through the levitating yogis and davening Cabbalists to the spontaneous psychics -- all part of the emerging front of humans who push through the material senses to achieve some grasp of and control over their natural faculties.
The common denominator for the world's metaphysical, occult, energetic paradigms is the truth that the human energy-field is the legendary Divine gift with which we are to create our reality. We can call it our DNA/RNA endowment, or we can call it "past life knowledge from wise ancestors", or we can call it the Dreambody, the Merkabah Chariot, Adam Kadmon or the Kabala Tree, but it all boils down to the same story.
A certain percentage of incarnate souls feel obligated to cultivate the body/mind, in search of the expanded frontier of consciousness and human potential. Alternately, some feel as if the body/mind is cultivating them, whether or not they want it! Either way, the soul-in-body situation provides a perfect context for distilling out impurities and boiling down to essences, which is the process going on at the heart of alchemy and also Masonic ritual.
Gyorgy E. Szonyi offers a wonderful window on magic as a psychology, an operative worldview and life path, in John Dee’s Occultism: Magical Exaltation Through Powerful Signs. The writer is building his case for Dee's self-cultivation as a magus by tracing multiple paths of approach to the topic, allowing us to see the man both as an icon in the history of magic, and as a subjective human engaged in a personal quest. Szonyi feels confident to speak for Dee the evolving human (rather than just Dee the mask of the magus) as a result of his extensive comprehension of and sympathy with Dee's philosophy and practice of exaltatio -- the characteristic theurgical approach to the spirit world employing various forms of 'heroic frenzy' undertaken in a sacred context for purposes of communing with higher worlds. Szonyi takes the time in his exposition to document the ground upon which Dee stood in history, right back to the western roots of theurgy, which we find deeply embedded in astrology, the zodiac, the planets, the decans, and the rest of the standard machinery of the Hermetic Cosmos. (And by the way, the first description of theurgy in western literature appears in the writings of Iamblichus, a name that should ring bells for those who were weaned on the inherited stories of Tarot's ancient ancestors. Could the link to theurgical practices be the reason the early Tarot myths-of-origin always contain this reference?)
We have approached this preoccupation of the Renaissance magi in previous ArkLetter articles to some degree, using terms like self-initiation, apotheosis, metanoia and ascension. Brilliantly, Szonyi has chosen an excellent descriptor in the concept of exaltation. The goal for the practitioner of this spiritual Path is to awaken him/herself from the mass mind herd state and realize his/her fullest divine potential. This is done by progressively deconstructing the armature of acculturation acquired over a lifetime, all the while refocusing the newly liberated energies of consciousness on those aspects of the human endowment that are said to be "made in the image of God". All of the efficacious self-cultivation paradigms from the world's traditions must serve this goal, as do all religions, whether explicitly or implicitly.
This is no condemnation of those who choose a collective path towards their soul's evolution, banding with others along the broad avenues of culture. But the magus, the theurgist, the yogi does his or her transformative work for the most part alone, or in communication with only a very small circle of like-minded souls (sometimes at some peril). The various stages of the Renaissance offer a plethora of documented examples of this type of individual. For those who want a comprehensive exposure to the issues driving the historic theurgical, essentially Gnostic path of the magus, with all the supporting threads fully documented, this is an excellent presentation.
Meanwhile, in Unlocked Books: Manuscripts of Learned Magic in the Medieval Libraries of Central Europe, by Benedek Lang, we have another solid resource for details that can cast light on the roots of Tarot design. Lang is one of the contributors to the Magic in History series offered by The Pennsylvania State University Press. This series of volumes "...explores the role magic and the occult have played in European culture, religion, science, and politics". What that means to the reader is that these volumes don't waste the author's or the reader's time with the old prejudices that for generations have excluded magic from the lists of culturally-operative forces shaping history. The field of Western Esotericism itself is maturing enough now that it is no longer necessary for every contributor to ritually "shake her/his wand of power in all the corners" to re-banish the perpetually belligerent ghosts of scientism. Finally the data are being mined, classified and categorized by enlightened excavators, and the research papers are piling up. Historians of occultism and magic can now relax and get comfortable, feeling more secure that the academics are handling the material correctly, with interest and openness rather than at arm's length with disapproving scowls on their faces!
The Rota Pythagorum
Lang's excellent tome has as its goal "to situate the role of central Europe as a center for the study of magic", according to the dust jacket. Because his focus is not only on the manuscripts, but also on their readers and collectors, he approaches the subject from both the content and the intent angles. His chapter called 'Divination with Diagrams' delineates the proper context within which to situate Tarot as a research object; it’s a variation within the general category of sortilegium, (interpretations of magical signs randomly selected by lots). Lang covers the simple sorts of oracles in this chapter -- those which foretell the future via interpretation of signs placed in nature or the body, signs revealed through lots (in our case, Tarot cards), or signs generated spontaneously by the enquirer (as in the geomantic figures). In the course of his exposition, Lang introduces a quintessential diagram, found across Europe, called the Rota Pythagorum. A short description of this tool on p. 130-131 tells us:
"...It operates with the numerical value of names, and indicates whether the person inquiring about his own fate will die or recover from his illness. It can be equally well used for any other issue that might have a positive or negative outcome, such as a battle, an examination, a marriage, or any other enterprise. The numerical equivalents for each letter are arranged in a circle, where it was possible to find the numerical value of the name of the client. This value is then subjected to a series of mathematical operations, the result of which we would find either in the upper or in the lower hemisphere of the inner part of the circle: if it is in the upper part, the patient will survive ... but if it is in the lower part, he will die (sooner or later...) This diagrammatic device of onomancy (divination based on the numerical value of someone's name) is usually attributed to Pythagoras or Apollonius; as a matter of fact, the Latin text of the Vatican manuscript copied by the circle gives the proper title [This is the Sphere of the Platonic Pythagoras which Apollonius describes in his books of ethics]. This -- obviously false -- attribution could have seemed quite plausible in the Middle Ages. Pythagoras was famous for the numerological nature of his philosophy, and the theory that numbers (or numerical values of letters) might correspond to aspects of reality appeared as a residue of the Pythagorean worldview. Thus the Sphere of Pythagoras, also called the Sphere of Life and Death, occurred in medieval manuscripts from the earliest times. Thanks to its visually expressive character, practical nature, and brevity, scribes often included it in astrological and divinatory collections in Central Europe as well."
This is not a Lullian wheel of 9 to 16 symbolic compartments, mind you, but a full alphabet with corresponding number series wrapped around a halved or quartered circle (which shows some of the same attributes seen in the standard horoscope wheel, by the way). Sometimes the titles and/or wheels were written in code, using such magical alphabets as Lang represents on page 132 (showing a sheet of cryptographic alphabets in the Vatican Library -- BAV Pal. Lat. 1375, fol. 19r.) Clearly, providing divinations via calculations with the numbers spelled into people's names (pun intended) was not a rare practice! Lang details a range of different circular and rotating diagrams found in the grimoires, (including astrological, kabalistic and rune/alphabet rotae), but he also lets us know that "... the most widespread medieval rota remained that of Pythagoras, the Sphere of Life and Death, and its equivalents under different names: the sphere of Petosiris and that of Democritos." (p. 137)
Let's look again at the formal category of sortileges, the practice of foretelling the future by drawing lots such as dice, runes, geomantic figures, numbers, letters, or some other symbol-set that can be corresponded back to a body of oracular pronouncements. This form of divination has been listed among the earliest uses for Tarot cards, according to Paul Huson, author of Mystical Origins of the Tarot. A short quote from his chapter "Of Cartomancy and Tarot" asserts,
"Many [German and Italian} lot-book covers bore circles around which twenty-three letters of the alphabet were inscribed. In some the circle itself could be spun like roulette wheel to pick out a letter; in others a pivoted pointer fulfilled the function. The letters would lead to an oracular verse inside the book that would answer the inquirer's question, either directly or after a further procedure involving dice or cards. The oracles invariably consisted of verses or morality tales.
"Up to this point we have discussed the origin of the trump cards solely in light of the evolution of the card games. However, combine the fact that the subject matter illustrated on the early trumps was drawn from just the kind of drama-derived moral, philosophical, or religious milieu dear to the hearts of the creators of the lot-books with the fact that the Wheel of fortune appears so reliably in tarot trumps and lot-books, and I think it fair to conjecture that these facts taken together may indicate some similarity of purpose shared by the trump sequence and such sortilege devices. Whether or not this was in fact the case, whatever the source of these new cards, the significance of their spiritually charged symbolism quite apparently was never lost on those who had eyes to see. As we noted earlier, the sixteenth-century German engraver Erhard Schon made use of seven of the trump images to illustrate the astrological houses of his printed "Horoscope." And sooner or later people began to use tarocchi images and images very like them for sortilege as well as for gambling" (p. 48 and forward).
A clean and updated version of this type of 'Pythagorean Rota' can be found here: http://sonic.net/~ric/go/church/AncientDivination.htm. I'm not vouching for the specific number/letter correspondences in the de Lawrence version, other than to note that he kept the convention of A=1. It would not be at all surprising if the formal number/letter correspondences known to polymath scholars of the ancient languages might have gradually accumulated errors as this Rota traveled around Europe and was transliterated for popular, vernacular use. The point is that these letter/number wheels were so common and so widespread throughout Europe's collection of historical grimoires, that there should be no further question about whether a connection between numbers and letters was established in the mind of the Medieval and Renaissance magus. Even if a given mage didn't have any of the grimoires listed in Skinner's Tables, the concept was near at hand. It would have been impossible for a literate person to miss the fact that numeric correspondences are attached to the alphabet (and by that I mean all the sacred alphabets of history); the knowledge utterly penetrated the literary and artistic milieu in which the Mamluk gaming pack was first modified into the European Tarot. This much can be known even if we can't say precisely when or where that work was done, or by whom.
And if we need just one more synchronicity to tie these ideas in our mind, scroll down to the bottom of the Pythagorean Rota article, to see the oracle cards that the original buyer of this pamphlet received in the package. You'll find a cartoon of the printed sheet of paper that was intended for cutting up into numbered 'chips' from which to draw lots. Aho! Snake eats tail again!
Let me also mention that our esteemed fellow esotericist and research angel John Meador brought the Rota Pythagorum to public attention over at TarotLmany long years ago. What a difference a decade makes! Those were the days when a small band of stalwarts were mutually engaged in passionate defense of Tarot's esoteric structure and correspondences, amidst a crowd with a vested interest in the theory that such correspondences are only a recent (and fairly arbitrary) addition to Tarot thought and practice. This and many other proofs of astro-alpha-numeric literacy among esoteric practitioners of the early 1400's were basically ignored, as if such ideas were so pointedly absurd as to be beyond deserving of consideration. Luckily, we have lived to see the day when such discussions no longer need to be endured, because the arguments have been fully vetted in the academic courts and the misapprehensions settled by weight of evidence.
A Surrealist Tarot
Proof positive of this salutary trend can be found in the article on the Breton Tarot de Marseilles included in the first volume of the Michigan State University Press' new Studies in Esotericism Series; Esotericism, Art and Imagination, edited by Arthur Versluis, Lee Irwin, John Richards and Melinda Weinstein (2008). The piece in question, 'Le Jeu de Marseille: The Breton Tarot as Jeu de Hasard', was written by Giovanna Costantini about an unfinished pack of cards undertaken by a group of surrealists including Andre Breton, who were holed up together in Marseilles during 1940-41, awaiting rescue from Hitler's occupation of France. The unfinished pack of cards was donated to the Cantini Museum in Marseille in 2003 by the heirs of Breton's estate.
The social and political circumstances of their impending exile, alongside the intensely creative association of the individuals involved (surrealists all: Breton, Victor Brauner, Oscar Dominguez, Max Ernst, Jacques Herold, Wilfredo Lam, Jacqueline Lamba and Andre Masson) puts us on notice that the deck itself was intended to hold more than one level of signification.
As Costantini states, " The Surrealists' critique of reason was ideally suited to the Tarot, for it undermined rationality, exploiting at once the myths and mechanisms of artistic inspiration as well as the outcomes of chance. Tarot cards encouraged reactions of surprise and wonder to coincidence, at times even unpremeditated insights that resembled release of the subconscious. Breton's idea to design a Jeu de Marseille also played brilliantly on the circumstances of the artists in its syntactical ingenuity. Not only did the idea invoke the Surrealists' characteristic penchant for wordplay, but also it proposed a paradoxical stratagem to subvert the reality of their persecution and impending exile. " (p. 97-8)
Having given herself permission to dissect this entire episode in Marseilles with a surrealistic, multidimensional scalpel, Costantini does herself proud! Delving into Breton's library, she lists his impressive occult and esoteric influences -- virtually all from the writers on the Continental Tarots. Breton apparently did his own research on Tarot's historical origins and root-concepts, of which Costantini makes an excellent summary:
"It is likely that Breton's inspiration for a collective Tarot series at Air Bel references a playing card tradition, and not the divinatory Tarot derived from associations with cartomancy, a tradition known as the jeux de hasard or games of chance. In contrast to the divinatory Tarot used for the passive purpose of predicting the future; the "game" of Tarot sought to challenge fate through engagement with risk and provocation. It was this tradition that furnished early twentieth century artists with an unspoken figurative language that also derived from esoteric sources. It was in fact the jeux de hasard and not the Tarot of the fortune-tellers that produced for many artists a subtext of concealed and coded meanings intelligible only to members of an elite inner subculture. As an artists' "game," the deck set out to confound order and logic with unrepressed creativity . . .
Breton's research revealed the origin of Tarot cards to be military, with cards that formed part of a jeu de bataille consisting of numbered cards that originated in the ranks of soldiers and their military companies. This fact is worth noting in light of other circumstances surrounding the deck's creation." (Pp. 98-9)
Talk about subverting the dominant paradigm! Using Breton as her significator, Costantini lays out a brief but fascinating view of history encompassing Tarot, the arts, Gnostic and Surrealist philosophy, linguistics, radical politics, Alchemy, triple-entendre symbolism, psychology, magic and gaming. I can't possibly do it justice by recounting it here. Although it might seem as if she has packed too many themes in too small a space, Costantini's clarity of expression (and extensive footnotes) allow these ideas to unfold and entwine in a natural if circular progression, weaving all the threads into a larger pattern with seemingly effortless finesse. Not only is she sharing the Breton Tarot de Marseilles with us, which is itself a gem of inventiveness; but she is also demonstrating the rewards of researching those "dark years" of Tarot, the early-to-mid 20th century, before Tarot became a merchandising category rife for exploitation, into which a broad array of hybrid cards have been accumulated. Gratefully I celebrate; if this is an example of how Tarot will be treated in the growing discipline of Western Esotericism, I'm all for it!
Costantini is also serving as a role model for future historians of Tarot, holding up a mirror to the vitality and freshness of traditional Tarot esotericism still persisting, even thriving, long into the 20th century -- untrammeled by the personality politics and war-between-systems that was developing in other quarters. The model of psychological and magical resiliency given by Breton's circle of resourceful esoteric artists offers something refreshing and inspiring for our times as well. I am personally inspired to learn more about the spontaneous, shamanic inclinations entertained by these gnostic Surrealists, at whom I have often looked askance due to their relative modernity.
It is affirming and enlightening to see the evidence of magic as a political strategy offering a living trove of tools for raising group consciousness while running under the official radar. Costantini has certainly opened the way for Tarot researchers going forward, demonstrating how orbits of influence from all corners of history can stack up and overlap in unexpected ways within the 'open outline' of the game of Tarot. She models for us the multidimensional, liminal zone that Tarot has always embodied for its fans and partisans, a zone that transcends time, categories, linguistic boundaries and circumstances. Wise sleuths of the occult will take the lens that Costantini offers and look backwards into history as well as around the modern landscape, because I'm sure there's much more material yet to emerge about the role of Tarot in the evolution of western civilization.
And Now For Something A Little Bit Different
The composite conclusion to be drawn from the themes I have assembled above and in previous ArkLetters is that there is something very real in the art/practice/worldview of the magus, something that has animated the human imagination since the beginning and accompanied us in every stage of humanity's unfolding, individually and collectively. The academics are starting to sense it; historians are beginning to recognize its presence as a co-factor in shaping pivotal movements in the mass mind. It seems that magic's days of being the invisible hand manipulating events behind the scenes are being replaced by a higher profile and many more lines of connection to things that matter. Good! It's jolly well about time!
Here I am not talking about the 'glamorized' versions of magic as in the new movie Angels & Demons or the Harry Potter stories. What I am referring to is the startling fact, which humans are now discovering in a big way, that the Universe is conscious of us. It is initiating communication and awaiting our response. It is also filled with things and entities that are very real, even immense and monolithic, but yet utterly invisible to our normal senses. Meanwhile, the things that are visible to our normal senses have attributes and qualities that we are completely oblivious to. We are surrounded by and immersed in an ocean of forces, which for convenience's sake (according to the implied social contract) we then mash together, average out and extrude into a standard product that we agree to call "reality".
Anybody who opts out of that standardization meme can immediately sense their way into the unique peculiarities of the Now, but this awareness requires a totally different way of using one's senses.
Without making a ruling on any of the modern millennial paradigms, the obvious common denominator for all of them is the collective foreshadowing of a looming, immanent shift of state. One early Christian philosopher referred to it as "the Gnosis of who we were, of what we have become... of wherein we have been thrown, of whereto we are hastening... of what birth really is, of what rebirth really is." (Valentinus, 2nd century CE) Worldwide myths of godlike omnipresent ancestors, as well as our many different cultural visions of a heavenly afterlife, make it clear that human societies collectively accumulate intimations of a state of existence available both "before" and "after" the soul's material incarnation -- even if we utterly disagree about how those things might work out in practice. Psychology and cultural anthropology affirm for modern times that the awareness of a boundary placed around us by the facts of mortality, both birth and death, casts a shadow over every human life, whether consciously or unconsciously. Something so fundamental to our species seems to be hard to argue away no matter how post-modern we will ever become.
I have always had difficulty with the attitude that Reality can be reframed, deconstructed, or persuaded into changing its stripes according to human preferences. Therefore, when I talk about magic, I'm not talking about miracles, things that by definition cannot happen. Magic is the science of the possible; practitioners test and stretch the boundaries, but not beyond the real. So I say yes, we can shift the direction of random events through acts of will and strong intention, but I still won't likely wake up inside a Dawn Redwood's body tomorrow, nor sprout wings and fly just because I want to. Consider this -- once one has committed to a particular identity in time and space, then one can't really speak of randomness or unlimited options in the same sense anymore anyway. There are certain natural limits to what is possible, at least for creatures like us, who come into and leave this incarnation through the door of flesh.
Further, humanity is infected with the added blessing and curse of the imagination, which is always prying into the cracks and crannies of reality, curiously turning over every rock to see what might run out from under it. Some people can keep their imaginations safely closed and locked up tight, and perhaps they have good reasons for doing so. But others can never quite turn the darned thing off, nor can they banish those revolving-door feelings that grab them in quiet moments. There are many who are simply haunted by sensations that confound their normal understanding of order and boundaries. Who is this looking in on me through my own consciousness, even as I think I'm alone? What is the source of these fragrances, melodies, touches and tastes that linger around me unbidden and unanchored in any physical manifestation?
We feel the rub most tightly when we follow our curiosity beyond the limits of our senses, to poke around in the areas nobody ever talks about. If my existence extends behind and beyond time as I have known it, what does the world look like in that larger view? Who is the viewer in that case? What is this thing I have reflexively called 'my self'? And what is the matrix that holds 'my self' within its frame in time and space, yet allows my consciousness to speculate beyond those coordinates? What is the state of being, or Being, which can contain everything that I ever was, am or will be, along with the vastness of Creation as well? Is That conscious in the sense I am, and if so, is It conscious of me? Who or what is listening in as I ask these questions?
Now is as good a time as any to begin making the experiments that can lead to answers for these questions. Our researches of the last five years have ranged far and wide to gather together the clues we need to get started. We have been talking for months already about popping our stitches, outgrowing old roles and identifications, opening up our antennae and re-sensitizing ourselves to the experience of our pre-verbal, intuitive bodies. We have examined practices of 'going within', detaching from our reactivity and witnessing What Is without polluting the moment with our own emotional thrashings. These are all aspects of the shamanic, magical and priestly quest to Become Conscious.
Living the imaginative life
What is the difference between the usual state of consciousness that most of us live in and the life of a shaman, psychic or Initiate? Not very much, it turns out, but the tiny differences eventuate in a very different approach to reality.
Whereas many spend their attention managing the results of events and identifications from the past, the shaman or natural intuitive sees that present events often prefigure upcoming events of the near and far future. The surface view of time holds that there is a lot of knowledge available about the past, whereas the present is still in formation and the future is an utter mystery. The intuitive might just as likely witness the opposite: that the reality of the past is by now quite confusingly buried in a mass of conflicting ego-projections extended by all the souls who have a stake in its description. Meanwhile, the future is still relatively pristine and untrammeled, containing a wider range of potentials, having not yet been reduced to that aggregate lowest common denominator which is material manifestation. It is within this zone of untapped possibility, available before the onset of material crystallization that the magus learns to work.
The truth of causality is that it originates from within each of us moment to moment, but appears "all around us" in time. This happens the same way a giant ocean liner in motion will raise a wave in front of its prow, which then spreads around the ship as it moves, ultimately becoming the wake behind it. The massive solid wall of the ship's prow, often multiple stories tall, isn't cleanly slicing through the water by any means -- it is actually smashing and bludgeoning a wall of water ahead of itself as it goes, creating a kind of "immediate future effect" that presages the ship itself. All of "time" surrounds our hypothetical ocean liner simultaneously; the wave ahead of the bow represents the near future, the ripples along its sides represent present events, and the spreading wake behind it represents the past. We think the causes of our reality are raining down upon us, beating against our sides from every angle, when in fact we are the force that is raising the waves!
Having once acquired this orientation, which becomes more real with practice, one finds that the ripples rising ahead of us (as we move through time) begin to attract more of our attention than the ripples opening out behind. Past events are after all simply a reflection of energies already spent, choices already taken. From this orientation, past events reveal themselves to be preamble and practice, stage-settings for what is to come, early echoes of the present or future. For the magus, pregnant events just coming into focus testify to the presence of a 'strange attractor', a yet-invisible gravity body that orients our path from past to future like magnet. The past is what we are emerging from, on the path of becoming our better, more conscious, more responsible future selves. What came before does not define us, it becomes the dross that is skimmed off for further purification as we golden ourselves in the alchemical vessel.
What is cause? What effect?
Carrying this idea over to the human intuitive, it is not the ego of the individual that is raising that pre-causative ripple, but the quotient of consciousness or 'light' that the person possesses within their essential (or immortal) Being. Call it one's 'psychic mass' if you will. At least in my experience, the more developed the Being is within the individual, the greater psychic mass they displace and the greater forward wave will be raised as they travel through life. This has nothing to do with how that person might appear in society or in history, but instead is a matter of the inner soul's innate heft and density. People who are already in touch with their trans-time Being are simply weightier, more substantial, in this aspect of Being.
Over the years, this represents the strongest argument for reincarnation I have ever found. Despite the spiritual democracy that we wish to imagine is governing human destiny, there is actually a lot of evidence to demonstrate that all incarnations are not created equal. There is no "generic human" to be found. This raises the question -- what makes each person become so distinctly themselves and no other? I think it's their individual quotient of pre-incarnational, energetic or astral "clout" (the prow of their Self, however it is configured) that shapes the incarnation and 'raises' the life-waves that the ego then has to deal with. It is the time-transcending Self within time/space incarnation that structures our experience around us, and that Self exists as surely in the future as it does in the past or the present. The Self, then, is the source of all the patterns that the intuitive is interacting with, both the Self of the psychic or priest, and the Self of the consultant.
Thoughts are things
By watching ourselves closely, we come to understand that subjective inner events almost always pre-announce the outer events to follow. In no way am I saying that such pre-cognitive thoughts "cause" outer events, however! What I mean is, even supposedly non-sensitive people will often apprehend, hunch or intuit aspects of upcoming developments in advance. To intuitives, being by definition more in touch with their non-verbal sensitivities, it feels normal and natural to come in contact with the seeds of futurity NOW. This is the sense in which 'thoughts are things’ perhaps the only things that really matter.
The background chatter of our so-called monkey-mind is not random by a long shot, but it is not rational either. It is simply representational of conditions in the non-Self, through which the Self is currently navigating. Your body-knowledge is constantly reporting in about what it is encountering, and your mind will represent this incoming information via whatever tool would work best -- a snippet of lyric, a remembered scene from a movie or book, a feeling-tone that evokes a memory, a fantasy cartoon in the imagination -- anything goes at this layer of the psyche. There are a million ways these intuitions can reach us. Professional readers of the oracular arts use this "chain of associations" technique on whatever body of symbols they are working with, and over time they become quite adept at following tiny clues to pull out huge insights. Taking the time to follow a seemingly random association a little farther quickly makes its relevance to the moment obvious. Often as not, however, we let these psychic sensations fall away or brush them aside, telling ourselves they are "nothing, silliness".
The real challenge is that, once we have become
open to know what seems hidden to others, then we have to challenge the
part of ourselves that was using ignorance as an excuse not to rock the
boat. It is a very radical act, to "know" something by your own lights,
instead of relying on consensus reality to determine what is what.
There is a great deal of courage required to reach out from our
culturally-muffled inner senses and take hold of something that we have
been told all of our lives cannot be contacted. Further, the knowing
that can be encountered when we stretch beyond the outer five senses
has often been tabooed and banished from the collective description of
reality, meaning that the perceiver will often get no support from
companions or authorities should s/he decide to share his or her
Slaves to 'consensus' reality
I linger on this point because I think it is the single highest barrier to experiencing our intuition, and it defeats most of us right at the outset of our experiments. The problem is denial, and it exists at every level of personal and collective consciousness. We are all schooled in denial, much more than we are even conscious of. From the endless 'white lies' told for the sake of smoothing the social waters, through those fancy choices of words we use to deflect unwanted probing, to the deliberate blindness that people deploy when they don't want to admit to something that will change their description of reality, we all have dozens of strategies that keep us from bumping into a thought we don't want to have. This is convenient and it keeps things simple, but it also keeps one dense -- blind, deaf and dumb to the rest of reality.
If we could materialize the collective psyche, it would become instantly visible to all that there are as many realities as there are individuals, and this extends up and down the food chain, not just among humans. Every person's experience is shaped, bound and unbound, by what they will admit into their personal consciousness, and what significance they give the things that do appear there. There is plenty of (unspoken) meaning and significance to whatever a given individual presents (or withholds) from the public view, including the stories they concoct to justify their absences. Everybody has a way they are most comfortable being seen, and we each unconsciously manipulate every situation to keep that frame standing between the world and ourselves, even to the point of absurdity sometimes.
Too many people's self-esteem depends upon maintaining some illusion or other for public consumption. These strategies consume a huge amount of everybody's day, not to mention burdening our friends and family with the impossible assignment of covering for us when our 'slip is showing', exposing our feet of clay. This leaves everybody constantly 'acting as if' we didn't consciously know what our bodies cannot pretend to miss, dancing around things we don't wish to see that are plainly revealed before even perfect strangers. Is this insane or what? It's truly an act of magical thinking to attempt to substitute earnest assertions or dogmatic pronouncements, however well pedigreed, for a person's own direct experience!
In my work with private clients, I have learned to suspend both belief and disbelief with each new client. I have no way of validating the data that people give me about their lives, and besides, it’s not likely to matter to the outcome of the session. What a person like me has to assume is that whatever a client presents is significant to them, in its own way, whether or not I can discern the facts on the ground. I am there to trace the outline of the archetypes at work and update the client about how those forces tend to operate in practice. I encounter the web of significance that the client displays, and then respond from the strings in my web that are vibrating in sympathy. The client may never even "see" me inside my role as sounding board for their issues, and that's got to be just fine with me. It is more realistic for me to simply respond to their un-processed energy, along with indications from the charts, cards, dreams, or energy-field under examination, rather than to respond to the story my client has constructed for me. I'm happy to focus my suggestions on the topic the client brings to the session, but the real 'information' I'm working with is unmediated by their ego-presentation. Otherwise I'd be in the same "frame" they are, and no progress would be possible!
We are also held out of our intuition because of our over-bondedness to language, which makes us likely to lose all information that is not set into words and written down somewhere. Every one of us has experienced this at one time or another. We can have amazing insight, tremendous overview, fabulous comprehension, but if we can't formulate it in words, most of us can't share it, or even barely remember it after the fact. I will make an exception for artists, musicians, dancers, and others who have trained themselves in a non-verbal 'vocabulary'. But for the average human, attempting to formulate our experience in words/worlds can actually become a hurtle to comprehension, both as the intuitive experience is happening, and later, in the attempt to describe or represent the results in consciousness. This is the reason why communication with the invisible world is so often conducted via symbols, which are pressed into service as the Jungian 'transcendent function’ that mediates between the unconscious and consciousness.
Is Humanity Coming Awake?
Looking back to past articles on the shamanic life of the body/mind interface (which I have been focusing on a lot these last two years, especially since June '07), what stands out for me is the feeling that everybody around me is popping open with new subtle senses as the years progress. This might simply be a phenomenon of reporting; since the '60's, a steady stream of new vocabulary about consciousness and the body/mind has been trickling into the mass mind from science and medicine, granting many people concepts to apply to experiences they were having but could never quite analyze before. Additionally, due to the 1970's college experiments in Mysticism & Parapsychology (a fad for a decade, though they were eventually folded up into psychology and religion programs), the methods of analysis developed to study shamanism have been repurposed to examine modern 'superstitions' and our own beliefs about reality. Meanwhile, the Internet has opened up the world treasure trove of spiritual, mystical, and magical beliefs for all comers. This makes for an unprecedented climate of open-mindedness and exploration, welcoming whoever might conceive an interest. There hasn't been this big a wave in metaphysical interest since the Renaissance, only now the numbers of people involved are astronomical.
Living the Transparent Life
In the quest for undividedness, the cultivator needs a level of impeccability. Just like the old TV commercial said, "you can't fool Mother Nature". You are a constant witness to your own thoughts, words and deeds, so there's no getting away from the truth that is manifest in your body/mind. One has to be consistent and keep taking personal responsibility, keep cleaning up the inner life, holding yourself to your highest standards whether you are alone, with your family or among strangers. That's the only way to be uncomplicated enough internally to trust one’s intuition when it comes. If you are all the time fouling your vessel with denial, double standards and dissembling, (much less addictive behaviors of one kind or another) you'll never be able to accept what your intuition delivers -- your habit of mind will be to change things around to suit your momentary state and preferences.
Attention must be paid to keeping a positive motivation, from the innermost intimation to the outer surface of consciousness. This one detail here separates the sheep from the goats. One must learn to harbor no tolerance of self-editing or manipulation of the message. There is literally no space for it either -- like a pane of glass, the goal is to carry information from deep intuition to the surface of the conscious mind without distorting it. The first shred of "processing" or political intention interferes with the transmission; just the way dropping a stone into a still pond ruins the reflection on its surface. Whether or not you initially trust your ability to interpret what comes to you, you have to at least trust the inner senses that bring your information to consciousness. This is why so many people advocate the simplest forms of meditation -- a time for sitting with our sensations and impressions without expecting to "know" anything or do anything about it.
The pure willingness to be sensitive is another criterion. Feeling ones feelings unreservedly is the ticket to entry. This is a quality we all had in abundance when we were children, but over time circumstances conspire to quash those impulses as they arise. We build calluses over our sensitivities to avoid the shame, pain and damage that have been overlaid upon our authentic feelings by our acculturation. We have to willingly 'put down our dukes' and let the natural emotions make themselves apparent, at least to ourselves. Stop tabooing your natural responses, and you'll be more psychic instantly!
Granted, it is totally understandable why we thicken our skins and dial down our sensitivities. However, being in that state is incompatible with psychic openness. We need the ability to 'close the blinds and shut things out' at times, but when we are facing towards the inner life, we have to be utterly and radically open and unguarded. That means, undefended, non-reactive, unveiled. That means learning to be safe in our own unknowns.
For the person who is shedding their limiting acculturation, synchronicities and serendipities become normal, so regular that they feel like it’s a kind of ongoing conversation with The Mystery. A simple way to document this to yourself, and thus increase the prevalence of it, is to get a very small loose-leaf notebook that you can easily slip into pocket or purse, and then make notes every time you have an AHA, or a realization that another one of "those things" has happened. Take the attitude that you are affirming a "sighting" of the Mystery, just like a birdwatcher logs their sightings. Since the Mystery is always with you, your activity of taking note on these sightings feeds the conversation and increases the number of responses you get back. Let others get lost in tweeting and Facebook -- you can be 'blogging with the cosmos' in your little notebook!
People tend to experience what they project out ahead, be that positive or pessimistic. This is the norm anyway, but in the case of the truly intuitive person, the time lag between having the thought and having the experience seems to be speeded up. The purification practices that accompany the shamanic lifestyle are likely responsible for some of this effect -- living with the spirits is a very consuming occupation, there really isn't bandwidth to harbor very many competing interests. Remember what was said above about the psychic individual being sensitized towards the incoming future rather than the aggregated past. Combine that with the active, responsive imagination that is tracking the probabilities and babbling a constant stream of associations into the subconscious, and you have the potential for getting into self-reinforcing feedback loops of great intensity.
So remember, you get what you spend time and energy envisioning, and preparing for, and making space for in your life. It might come through utterly unpredictable channels, and it may not look like what you first envisioned, but as things unfold you will see the absolute accuracy of the quirky developments that are leading you into your fulfillments. Watch your mind and control what you are thinking! Stop feeding the demons by allowing your consciousness to traffic in lower-octave thought forms. Really, people. A mind is a terrible thing to waste! Think of the "field of your attention" like the farmer thinks of his field -- plow it, and till it, and seed it, and weed it, and see that the seeds you have sown get water when they need it. Over time, you will receive a harvest from your labors that will match the seed you sowed. There is no greater Justice than this.
Is there a Mayan Calendar connection too?
Ultimately, I think there are multiple interlocked reasons for the current increase of people "popping open" and suddenly growing new senses. Some of it is maturity, since it is statistically provable that all people, even those who would say they are "dense as a post", become more permeable to intuition as they age. Plus, there is stress of all kinds bombarding us, which drives down our bodily, emotional and mental defenses and causes our boundaries to be more ragged and porous. We also have a ton of DNA and a universe of microorganisms in our makeup, the function of which we currently have not a clue.
It's not such a stretch to imagine that we have a "safety stash" of inherent potential that would be kicked into action in a time of great global stress, like right now. Given the unprecedented species die-off we have been undergoing, plus the confluence of global climate change, water stress, pollution and human degradation of the ecology, it's not extreme to view the times we are living in as a "make it or break it" era. Further, the forces at work speeding up our evolution could also be related to the current magnetic and telluric conditions the Solar System is enduring, preparatory to the upcoming transition we will be living through as we cross that much-anticipated, much-ballyhooed peak point of Dec 21, 2012.
Let me say right here that I have for a long time kept my distance from the Mayan calendar discussions, and I don't have a favorite author in the genre beyond my own dear friend Moira Timms, who collected the evidence that was available across the '70s in her seminal book Prophecies and Predictions. In the very style I have been warning against, my focus has been so much on Western Esotericism and the historical tradition that it has taken me a long time to open my viewfinder and take a gander at the strange attractor out ahead. But now that we are arriving within a geological eye blink before the purported epicenter of this event, I am willing to include this dimension in my overview, though I still claim the right to reserve judgment and abstain from the politics playing out between the partisan camps boosting varied timetables and interpretations. Just like the truth about the number/letter correspondences in history, if upcoming global change on this scale is a reality, then it will show itself to be untouchable by all the storms of thunder and lightning launched by and at all sides of the argument. Above and beyond human beliefs, there is Reality, which is no subscriber to our "issues".
The fact that I am mentioning the Mayan Calendar discussions *at all* could itself be a symptom of what’s coming, for all I know! Rumor has it that the entire gravity-body of the Solar System is being squeezed, crushed and crumpled down into a wadded-up, stressful mess, which will be followed on the other side of the transit with a violent and hysterical release. If that fits with anybody's experience right now, perhaps you should go ahead and investigate what people are talking about, whether or not we can prove it to be "true" at the moment. (But then again, what’s that about the sunspot cycle being unnaturally quiet lately?) (See: http://www.december212012.com/articles/editors_notes/Is_the_world_really_going_to_end_on_December_21_2012.htm)
Sincerity; The Final Barrier
Being honest to the required degree, even if done with great sensitivity, is not convenient, culturally speaking. Telling the truth illuminates the lie of the implied social contract -- the unspoken pact by which we all pretend we are already being honest with each other and ourselves. Radical self-honesty also reveals our hidden agendas, which might have been running undetected below or beside the threshold of consciousness for a lifetime already. For some, it will force a radical re-evaluation of the base premises of their primary relationships, their means of self-support, or their community alignment. This is the reason so many people decline to pursue self-exploration arts like therapy, alchemy, dream work, astrology or Tarot. They don't want to face the fractured mess they have for an inner life, and they don't want to do the work it would take to clean it up and bring themselves into coherence from inside to outside.
Anybody who reads the literature of esotericism, no matter what branch or discipline, encounters constant exhortations for the practitioner to go into retreat, pray, purify themselves, study scripture, seek spiritual guidance, fast from intoxicants, sex and meat-eating, and in other ways clear out their channels. These kinds of steps are always recommended before starting into a new self-cultivation modality. The purpose for this is to un-complicate our motives, to help us focus our will on the one thing that is most important to us, the capstone of our pyramid. Purification practices also serve to wean us from addictions and reduce the number of claims the outer world can make on us. But we don't have to restrict this advice to the occasional orgy of self-correction -- better to learn to live soberly, modestly, honestly and healthily in general, as a regular routine. Remember, the goal is to have as thin a membrane as possible between the private self and Spirit At Large. Anything that interferes with your still-pond serenity and receptivity -- be it a toothache, the background drain of nutritional deficiencies or an addictive relationship with people, substances or sex -- is an imbalance to be examined and reduced if not eliminated.
But beyond issues of health and serenity lie the upper-function egoic, emotional and mental cleansing practices. If you were to listen to yourself talk for one full day (without censoring anything you would normally say), you will discover how much of your power you unthinkingly offload onto external situations, people and agencies. For a small example of this, just look around your house and see how many tasks are waiting to be done. For every little pile, unfixed widget, unwashed load and unweeded spot of land, you have an excuse in place. For every incidence of stuck energy clogging your life, you have a rationalization. Maybe you have been waiting too long for somebody to get back to you; or the shop gal sold you the wrong part and you haven't gotten organized to make the exchange and finish the task; your friend helped you clean up last week and now you can't find something you need; your mother didn't teach you how to cook and now 40 years later you are overweight and thinking it's a therapy issue.... We all do variations on the theme, spinning elaborate narratives about how this (xyz) that's blocking up the flow is not my fault! Really! It "just happened somehow" and has nothing to do with me!
This is the most insidious, invidious, invasive and overpowering weed the mind can harbor. It's a life killer really. We need to ask ourselves, how is it that I allow myself to be bought off and derailed away from taking care of business by excuses and rationalizations? Why don't I just get going and do what needs doing? What makes these lame excuses seem more real to me than setting things right in my life? Why would I allow temporary outer circumstances to frustrate me and steal so much of my power that I freeze in my tracks like a stone statue, without ever questioning the impediment? Why do I let that pile of unprocessed feelings steal my thunder and leave me bereft?
Breaking the Spell
This article has covered a lot of ground, from the academic to the deeply internal and intimate. I have carved a circular course to get to this point, so let me frame out what I think is The Bottom Line for readers and for myself.
The future belongs to those people who have a direct channel between their ego and their deep self. For these people, the bolts of their lock (bio-psychic, emotional and mental) are lined up and ready to open on contact, at any moment when conditions are right. I have been known to say that humans invented words so we could lie, but the issue is even bigger than just our addiction to language. Dissembling of all kinds, as a survival strategy for humans, has played itself out. It is no longer useful to live divided up into isolated compartments, with the left hand ignoring what the right hand is doing, with all of us missing each other's signals and practicing the "man as island" lifestyle. Those who want to thrive and be fostered during the coming change will have to unify their thoughts, goals and habits, get internally organized and point all their spokes in a single direction-- towards the hub. Nothing less than full single-mindedness will do.
Take these kinds of issues into the larger human scale and you will realize that a lot of what is holding the world in place is simple inertia. Matter takes the shape of the last force that impacted it, so everything around us represents the moment when the most recent thrust of will power petered out. Seth, the channeled entity who spoke through medium Jane Roberts during the 70's, said that reality grows and develops under the influence of consciousness. Wherever you point the beam of your consciousness, that's where the impetus for transformation is going to erupt. Imagine what would happen in your life if you lived with that understanding uppermost in your mind. The veil would be lifted between your inner life and your outer life, people would know you for who and what you truly are, and you would know them just as well.
As you can imagine, this can be good, and then again it can be not so good. In your striving for self-coherence, you run the risk of alienating important people in your life. This is just how it is; you cannot make another individual change their mode of being just because you are doing so, no matter how important you are to each other. On this planet, it's a spiritual democracy -- one soul, one vote. Therefore, if there is a person in your life who lives by a double standard, is more invested in playing charades than dealing in reality, who prefers a life lived "as if" instead of with authenticity, well, you might have to admit that this is an incompatibility and relinquish the bond. Make the request to increase the relationship's truth-quotient and coherence, and make sure that you have dismantled your own resistance as well. If that doesn't help, you have to realize that every soul is operating on its own recognizance. Those who have a different agenda than you deserve to be freed up to find their destiny with their own type, whatever the historical roles might have been in a previous stage. Living with falsity by co-depending with a person who is split and in denial, will warp your internal coherence, no matter how much goodwill or sentiment you might feel for that person.
Like clay, our emotions and thoughts will tend to retain the shape of the last blow we received. Therefore it is wise for us to take steps to de-program between adventures; simply accumulating experiences without taking time for digestion, understanding, and growth is the fast track to becoming insincere, cynical, paranoid, warped and old before our time. This is also true for those who see no choices for themselves but to play offense or defense, as if human relations were reducible to the terms of warfare, are simply holding their damage in place and missing out on their own healing potential. Don't collude with such small-minded people by buying into that worldview! We are children of an expanding universe, meaning that fresh potentials emerge all the time, at every level.
As a shaman, a sensitive, a mage, your job is to be fearlessly aware and awake in the moment, responsive and responsible, staying in the conversation with The Infinite, no matter what the people around you are doing. Strive to be true to the mini-cosmos in which you live, and everything else will begin to fall into place.
June 22, 2009
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TAROT ARKLETTERS are published by:
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