News And Book Reviews
We are now in the final edit of Volume 2, which contains all the historical essays that back up the choices made in Tarot of the Holy Light. It's a real challenge to stay in front of the computer when the weather is beautiful, my garden is begging for my presence, and my family has grown with the addition of a brand new shining star, Jackson Red Towler. But I'm so excited with this work, and the responses that I'm getting, that I'm drawn to carry on no matter how reluctant my rear end is to hit the chair again. As is so often the case, there's no way out but through!
Here are a few books I’d like to encourage people to investigate, because of their relevance to the project. These volumes have not been included in the Bibliography, because I didn’t have access to them when I was writing. However, they each confirm and extend of my existing conclusions, so I want to make note of them now. Those who crave something substantial to chew on before Foundations of the Esoteric Tradition emerges can follow the hints I'm dropping here and get a jump on the process.
Last month I mentioned the important study entitled Hidden Mutualities; Faustian Themes from Gnostic Origins to the Post-Colonial by Michael Mitchell. A few quotes from the first chapter were highlighted, just to establish a little context for my own interests. However, that is merely the tip of the iceberg that this volume truly represents. The middle section of this book, entitled “Overgrown Paths”, holds the most interest for those who are trying to establish historical precedents for Tarot’s inherent esotericism. I hear that modern Tarot historians “won’t even look into a book that doesn’t have Tarot in the index”. This motivated me to hunt through my stacks in search of a resource that could serve as a bridge between my own antiquarian interests and contemporary Tarot exigetes. Michael Mitchell’s excellent analysis is that resource, so I hope the Tarot experts of the current era don’t overlook it. Let me quote the opening paragraphs of his middle section, found on p 105.
“Chapter 4: ’Renaissance and Enlightenment — Kepler and Fludd
To recap on what has been shown in the previous chapters, the Renaissance magus, drawing on the resources of the Gnostic/Hermetic tradition, attempts to manipulate the material world through the creative imagination. He is the archetypal Gnostic seer whose fall is illustrated in Faustus, and yet who might find in the cause of his fall the means to reverse it. In tracing the development of this archetype over the intervening period of hegemonic European and neo-European (Western) culture, we shall observe how it becomes split into two figures who are ‘adversarial twins’; the one for whom the laws of the ‘real’ and material can be codified and put to use is most aptly embodied in the engineer (and empire-builder), and the other, whose reliance on the imagination makes him hover on the obscurely numinous margins as an eccentric, is the poet (and visionary).
Particular factors which delineate the progress of the split are, first, the loss of the sense of unity of being, reflected in the way language is turned from being an organism of metonymy and analogy into a tool of ‘single vision’; secondly, the denial of the feminine, as consciousness ostensibly distinguishes itself from the unconscious, projecting it into perceivable reality and there, ironically, falling under its spell; and, finally, the status and appreciation of the imagination. It will be clear in this that the glass slipper of gnosis is never quite lost, so that, when the Mephistophelian project falters, the old archetypes can be reactivated within a still living tradition.”
There is one caveat: Mitchell's book has no index, only an extensive bibliography. Tarot becomes a topic by Chapter 6, entitled “Rediscoveries — Kipling, Yeats, Crowley, Pauli and Jung”. Prior to that chapter, Mitchell very astutely links the esoteric question posed by the Faust archetype to the intellectual legacy created by Rosicrucian-inspired Masons. Making extensive use of widely diverse resources, Mitchell illuminates the leading thinkers of each century in their efforts to preserve and convey some vestige of the Renaissance synthesis despite the eruption of the scientific worldview, with its progressively demystified and materialized outlook. Mitchell’s ability to come to grips with these powerful historical themes, picking out the salient threads and demonstrating how they interweave to explain the resulting cultural phenomena, is masterful in the extreme. (His bibliography alone is worth the price of this volume.) I am happy to admit to being riveted every time I open this volume. The fact that he finds it so natural to include Tarot as another stage of this intercultural, inter-generational project is the cherry on top for me!
To learn more about the peculiarities of the astral septenary that organizes the Trumps of the THL, and which also defines the primary remedies of Spiritual Alchemy, one can consult the excellent analysis entitled Illumination on Jacob Boehme; The Work of Dionysius Andreas Freher by Charles A. Muses (Kings Crown Press, New York, 1951). This is an academic work designed to highlight the essential contribution of Freher in artistically elucidating Boehme’s recondite insights. In particular, Muses recruits Freher to explain the septenary in Boehme’s first formulation of it, unclouded by the more sophisticated adjustments that Boehme came to later in life, once the Copernican controversy clarified his thinking about literal planetary relations in the Solar System. In the forthcoming book I spend some pages detailing the cross-cut saw that was the Copernican revolution; suffice it to say here that Boehme’s lifetime coincided with the first wave of the 17th century theological debates around this topic, and his thinking evolved in the push/pull of these discussions.
Boehme’s overview is the result of contemplating the historical layer-cake of Abrahamic Tradition, reflecting two thousand years of inter-cultural theology. His synthesis continued to have a powerful effect across the subsequent centuries, even past the time when we see the first self-declared “esoteric Tarot” emerging into the public eye (in the reformed Masonic climate of the late 1700’s). To gain perspective on the metaphysical profundity of Boehme’s revelations, the student must first ground him- or herself in the Christian gnosticism that arose in the heart of the Sophianic theosophers who gathered around Boehme in the early 1600’s. His startling insight into the Septenary of planetary influences, condensed in Freher’s Key of Jacob Boehme, offers essential openings into the vast implications of Boehme’s religious and magical visions. At very least, one will find a solid introduction and foundation for further understanding in Muses.
Another excellent (and more contemporary) volume is entitled An Introduction to Jacob Boehme — Four Centuries of Thought and Reception, edited by Ariel Hessayon and Sarah Apetrei. This one is a collection of articles by different analysts investigating Boehme both in his own time and in his long-term effect on the esoteric stream. I find that Arthur Versluis’ summary makes an excellent capstone for the collection of ideas represented in this volume, helping the 21st century reader to fathom why Boehme holds such pride of place in the transmission of Western esotericism. I am struck with fire and ice in my spine when I read Versluis' final lines:
“…if the study of ‘esotericism’ genuinely demarcates a separate field of inquiry, what does that field contribute to our understanding of history, philosophy, literature, and religion? An obvious answer is that it contributes the study of what is distinctively “esoteric,” meaning also “initiative,” in a particular author’s work. And while much has been written on Boehme in various contexts from Pietism to mysticism to Western esotericism, we still await investigation of his work as esoteric; how, and in what senses this is so; and ultimately, what “esoteric” means in such a case. Despite all that has been written, that is still a challenge that lies, not behind us, but ahead.”
Although I never encountered these words before I started, this has been my self-defined assignment while composing these two volumes that support Tarot of the Holy Light. Time will tell whether I have hit the mark.
Another contribution to our quest for the historical roots of Tarot esotericism comes in a slim volume entitled Eliphas Levi and the Kabbala: The Masonic and French Connection of the American Mystery Tradition by Robert L. Uzzel, Ph.D. I found this volume fascinating because it represents the expanding open-mindedness of serious historians to investigate the Masonic and Rosicrucian contribution to the development of Western esotericism. Over the years I have continuously run into a puzzling lack of interest for the contribution made by the formal and informal groups that have networked history’s esotericists since the earliest times. We (Tarot historians) understand trade guilds and priesthoods, we recognize the lineage transmission of intellectual streams representing the Kabbalists and Gnostics, and we certainly have no trouble celebrating the post-modern associations that lie at the roots of the 20th century, anglophile Tarots. Nevertheless, it has been very difficult to interest our “big names in Tarot” in the academic evidence that details the esoteric transmission coming forward from the Middle Ages through to the Enlightenment. Therefore I celebrate Robert L. Uzzel, who has made it his task to represent Levi’s position in the transmission of modern Masonry. Uzzel’s focus is specifically on the 19th century as preamble to the American manifestation of Masonry in the 20th century. But in the course of his presentation he is modeling a more inclusive attitude that I hope will assist our current experts in opening their minds to the deeper roots of the symbolism we find in the older Tarots.
Finally, I will suggest another resource that digs much farther back into history, starting with the Crusades and the great clash of civilizations that happened at the cusp of the last millennium. This book is part of a much larger series that proposes a view on history more gargantuan than any of the above-mentioned authors. Nevertheless, this volume cannot be ignored, because it tells essentially the same story I am telling, covering the same period of time and even citing the same pivotal characters. I would never have grasped the whole picture the way this author does, however, so I have to thank him for his fearless and exhaustive recitation of the lineage transmission as it was happening from the Middle Ages to the present. I am referring here to Dr. Joseph P. Farrell, and his amazing volume Thrice Great Hermetica and the Janus Age; Hermetic Cosmology, Finance, Politics and culture in the Middle Ages Through the Late Renaissance.
Wow, what a blockbuster this book is! Farrell is meticulous in sweeping together yet another wide spectrum of resources, effectively doubling our stacks when added to the bibliographies of the above volumes. He’s looking for an entirely other dimension of the history in question; digging up the international espionage, banking shenanigans, political developments and cultural clashes that don’t show up as clearly when one is only researching literary esotericism. Because of the difference between his focus and mine, I am stunned to see the ways his conclusions reinforce my own. But his overall vision so far exceeds my own that I can only ride along in awe and let him lead the way into a considerably broader field than I would ever try to tackle.
It is possible that Farrell's overview is only for the strong of heart; his works might be too much for those of a conservative bent. I will have to read several more of his works in order to grasp the full scope of his presentation, before I can adequately respond to his overarching thesis. But in the meanwhile, Farrell’s writing is eminently readable and packed with background data that he has clearly worked for years to collect. For those with adventurous minds and a yen for the bigger picture, Farrell is a wonderful source of scarce information. There is a lot to be learned from him whether or not you ultimately agree with the conclusions he reaches when all is said and done. His books, articles and interviews can be found at http://gizadeathstar.com.
For those who are still with me, here’s a little deck review: I just acquired the wonderful Sibyl of the Heart from Giordano Berti. This is a 40-card pack of icons that were designed by Daniel Cramer, a Rosicrucian alchemist of the early 1600’s. Everything you need to know about this pack is here
I wrote a little review and posted it as Berti’s Facebook page, but it’s worth repeating here.
This pack is beautiful, hands down. Michael Dowers agrees, it's all utterly top-notch production. Fabulous box, inner transparent sparkly red bag to hold them, excellent reproductions and coloration, sweet and helpful little booklet. Apparently the "full" collection of these emblems numbers 50, but Giordano Berti, Lopes and Lucifora looked them over and picked out the 40 that match the closest to a Lenormand pack. What I like the best about this pack beyond the utter charmingness of the images and the spiritual counsel that we are getting via the originator, Daniel Cramer, is the very strong evidence here of an iconic or graphic tradition of symbolistic communication between Rosicrucians, on display in this very collection of loaded imagery. The details are not random by any means! Because I'm immersed in the writings and art of Jacob Boehme at this time, I can easily see the links between Cramer and Boehme (and the rest of the alchemical gang) as they exchange ideas through these loaded symbols. So we can use these 40 images (even more the full 50) as examples of an intellectual and spiritual transmission from the alchemical emblems onto the earliest modern Tarots (Etteilla/Lenormand). Many thanks for excavating these treasures, Giordano. I completely recommend them.
(What I failed to mention because I hadn't found it yet, is that the box included a refrigerator magnet of a traditional Sun card, a totally delightful bonus. Thanks yet again!)
Any day now, the Kindle conversion of our new book, Tarot of the Holy Light: A Continental Esoteric Tarot will be done. I’ll be announcing it at FaceBook, but if there is anybody who wants a personal note when that product is available, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll make sure you are the first to know. Also, anybody who has a review of the new book is encouraged to mention it over at the new Facebook page that has been created for it. https://www.facebook.com/holylightbook
Blessings all! May the Sun’s upcoming transit into Leo find you enjoying the pleasures of High Summer.
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ArkLetter 122, June 16, 2015
copyright christine payne-towler 2005-2015, all rights reserved
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