More New Books.

Two more books for my Tarot Library. I’m beginning to delve into some heavier reading.

Here’s the first one:

Wirth, Oswald. Tarot of the Magicians: The Occult Symbols of the Major Arcana that Inspired Modern Tarot. Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC., 2012. First published in French in 1927 as Le Tarot, des Imagiers du Moyen Age.

I’m already well into this one. It’s fascinating and a very historically important look at the occult functions of a Tarot deck. Oswald Wirth was working with the Tarot at the same time the Golden Dawn was using its now famous occult Tarot methods. Wirth’s methods are different. They deal with much of the same stuff (astrology, Cabbalah, etc.), but Wirth had a different idea of how these ideas fit into the Tarot. He reworked the Marseilles-style Major Arcana to better fit with his ideas.

Wirth was much more straightforward in his writing than his contemporary occultists Aleister Crowley and Arthur Waite. Granted, Waite still felt bound by his oath of secrecy despite Crowley having already published the Golden Dawn’s secrets, and Crowley was just the kind of guy who seemed to like the way his own convoluted voice sounded, but the both of them are confusingly verbose in their prose. I enjoy reading them, but it’s like reading a puzzle at times, and it’s refreshing to me that Wirth doesn’t really mince words. That’s not to say he doesn’t delve into deep and complex esoteric matters; he does, but rather than making it even more complex to discourage the uninitiated, he has the goal of education, and tries to facilitate that with his writing.

Of course, the trade-off here is that Wirth is sometimes just plain dry. I don’t really mind it personally, but I know that can be a bore to some.* It should also be kept in mind that this book was originally published in the late 1920s by a man who was already well along in age by that time. It’s just not going to grab modern readers who find themselves discouraged by language which seems archaic to their sensibilities.

Anyway, without going into too much detail of the specific contents, I will say that this book appears to be organized into three basic sections. First is the introductory material in which Wirth explains where and how he came to use the symbols he uses. This includes a brief description of alchemical, astrological, and cabbalistic principles, theories of occult initiation, as well as basic things like shape, number, and color symbolism. Of course, as I’ve already noted, none of these things are used in quite the same way that the Golden Dawn used them. This is a totally different system for using the Tarot that just happens to draw from the same sources.

Second is a card-by-card description of each card of the Major Arcana as Wirth redesigned it. That’s pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t talk anymore about it here. Last is a section which includes methods of using the cards for divination. There is more than that, but I am still currently working my way through the second section, so I don’t really know what the last section is really all about aside from divination. I look forward to getting there, though, because unlike other haughty occultists, Wirth does not appear to look down on divination but rather seems to have a certain respect for it.

Overall, I really enjoy this book so far, and I find it very useful in terms of adding another dimension of understanding to the Tarot. I do not have a Wirth deck, but his influence can be felt in some of my other decks (most notably the Medieval Scapini). And being interested in history as I am, I find this book to be an important installment in the historical chronicle of the Tarot.

~~~

The other book I haven’t yet begun to read, but it promises to be interesting, if nothing else.

Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism. Tarcher/Penguin, 1985 (originally published in French in 1980).

At over 650 pages, this anonymously written work is the longest book I have on this subject. I have not yet cracked its spine, so I can’t really give much of a review. From what I can gather, it is one religious (Christian) man’s thoughts and meditations on each of the 22 Major Arcana from a Marseilles-pattern deck. It’s arranged in 22 letters addressed to his “dear unknown friend,” us the readers. After briefly flipping through the pages, it appears to go very in-depth into each card. The title suggests an angle of Hermeticism tinged with Christianity; it was penned in 1980, which is fairly modern, and I expect this to have an impact on the contents. I am eager to begin reading this one, but have decided to wait until I’ve finished reading Wirth’s book first, so I can give it my full attention. I have a feeling it will require it.

Perhaps once I’ve read it, I’ll provide an actual review.

 ~~~

Both of these titles will be added to my library shortly.

*Then again, if we’re comparing Wirth’s style with Waite’s and Crowley’s, I don’t know if I can really say it is any more dry than the others, especially Waite’s. The only real difference here that I can see is that Wirth is aware of the dryness of his work and doesn’t really care to try and cover it up. He even directly addresses the reader on several occasions, one of which he encourages him or her to strive to continue on in spite of the dryness of his work, because that is the way it must be to prepare one for the study required to really learn the Tarot, or to “make it speak”, as he says.

Some Musings on this, the Solstice and Full Moon.

I watched the Moonrise this evening, pretended I was an ancient Mediterranean pagan for a moment while I emptied my wine glass into the grass as libations to the gods, and smoked a couple cigarettes, all while contemplating my spirituality.

Once the Moon was fully in view over the trees and hills, after a tantalizingly slow climb, I decided to go inside and do a Tarot reading by the light of my Hermit Lantern.

I’m in an odd mood tonight.

I used the Deviant Moon Tarot,* laid out in the Full Moon spread that is described in its accompanying instructions booklet. I figured it was apt.

Considering I wasn’t really consulting the Tarot about a specific question, I would say it was fairly accurate in describing my current state of mind, if a bit vague. But I expected nothing less.

The card that stood out most to me on this evening is the High Priestess, which came up in the “spiritual influences” spot in the spread.

How fitting as the Full Moon rises and I contemplate the gods by its glow.

~~~

I used to keep a Tarot journal, which I used to record my thoughts about each card. I still do keep one, in which I collect spreads and record readings, but once I began this blog, my thoughts about the cards stopped entering my notebook in favor of this cyberspace.

Unlike many scholarly writers, I don’t take notes prior to composing a draft. I just write, editing as I go. I usually begin with a vague idea or a talking point, and let it evolve. Once I’ve finished, I go back over a couple the draft a couple times, changing words, adding or subtracting sentences, until it’s more or less coherent, and I’m satisfied with the sound of it. Then I post. I usually have a couple drafts going at any given time (there are six separate WIPs currently in my “drafts” folder now, some of which have been languishing there for quite some time).

The point is that this blog is really nothing more than a high-tech journal for me, effectively replacing my old notebook as a place for my thoughts. Here, I publish my posts, and they are available for anyone to read if they please. And of course, I always appreciate feedback. But this is a personal place for me to reflect upon a personal passion, and so I don’t adhere to any schedule.

From the time I began this blog a couple months ago until very recently, I’ve been fairly prolific in my output. I don’t want to make any assumptions that anyone actually cares, but I do want to say that, because this is essentially my journal, and not a magazine, I won’t always be writing.

Or, to put it another way, I’m currently experiencing a touch of writer’s block.

It’s like any of my other passions. I play guitar, but I go through phases occasionally when I do not touch my instrument for weeks or even months at a time. But when I’m compelled to pick it up again, I do it with a new energy, and I often find that, where I was previously stuck on a plateau, I am now quickly ascending to new levels of skill.

So, to those few of you who do follow my musings (which I do appreciate, by the way), I will sometimes take a leave of absence. Don’t mind it. I’ll be back eventually with fresh perspectives.

~~~

Anyway, I’m going to go stare at the Moon some more and contemplate stuff.

~~~

I have been playing with my cards lately. I’ve just had nothing to say about them for a while. They’ve told me nothing significant in my readings, and I’ve had no noteworthy revelations in my studying and contemplating them. I do think about them. I wonder about broader things than the cards’ internal symbolism or relationships, sometimes, like how the Tarot as a concept, as an oracular guide or consultant, how its possible function as a book of wisdom on a divine level, fits into the larger puzzle of my life in general. Can I put faith in it? Do I wish to?

I think I do, but I question these things. And it all stems from my uncertainty of the role faith plays in my life. How much of a role I want it to play. How I want to define it, if I even do.

I suppose it’s a combination of a couple factors that keeps me from recording these thoughts here. On one hand, I think it is a result of my intent in starting this blog to keep my personal life at least relatively separate from my writing on the Tarot. There are practical concerns related to identity on the internet, of course, plus the admittedly romanticized notion of anonymity. But I also respect the Tarot as a serious path of study through an academic** lens, and I try to treat it as such when I write. I write here as if I would turn my work in to a respected professor at the end of the term (with appropriate editing for grammar and content, of course, and properly cited).

On the other hand, these sort of thoughts often expand faster than I can come up with words to describe them, and to realms where, sometimes, words just can’t do justice anyway. I’m thinking thoughts too big for man.

Of course that’s not true. Questions of faith and our place in the greater scheme of things have been plaguing man since before collective memory. I believe my internal struggles, while unique to me, are shared on a subconscious level by all, or at least many. But how many of the multitudes throughout time have managed to put sufficient words to it? Proportionately few is the answer. It’s no easy task to communicate deep existential struggles to others, no matter how many of them can identify with the feeling.

In other words, my word-smithing skills are as yet too unrefined for me to put them to regular use describing the abstractions in my head about the Tarot’s role in my life.

Things are moving along, though, both in my head and in my life. I feel as though I’m beginning to emerge from my time as the Hermit (I’m always the Hermit deep down, but it is lonely in there, and a guy’s got to live). My thoughts will eventually crystallize, and I’ll be more willing to go back to regularly writing about mythic archetypes and other such musings on the Tarot.

~~~

I admit, astrology is not my thing. I do not expect to find the same sort of significance in this combination Summer Solstice / Full Moon as many of you probably do. But I do find a personal significance in it. I’ve been fascinated by celestial happenings since I was a child. Not in an astrological sense, nor even an astronomical sense. I don’t know very much about the stars at all, except for some basic principles from both disciplines that I’ve picked up over the years. But I gaze at them often, and I have been for years. My perspective was different after I witnessed a full lunar eclipse a couple years back; I have memories of watching meteors fall with my buddies when we were carefree (not that we realized how carefree we actually were at the time). Once, Jupiter and Mercury lined up to point directly to the Tree of Life, and I saw it. I saw it.

The Full Moon following the Longest Day of the Year is significant to me, and I am honored to be in the presence of the High Priestess on this night.

I am in an odd mood tonight.

~~~

*In retrospect, I kind of think I should have used the Sun and Moon Tarot, because, you know, Solstice and Full Moon. Oh well.***

**When I say “academic”, it should be understood that I’m speaking in broad terms, such as having an ‘academic mentality’. I’m not studying Tarot at any college (is that even possible?).

***I’ve decided to do a small, four-card Yin~Yang spread with the SaM just before I end this day, after all:

HPIM0302
Yin~Yang spread with the SaM, next to the High Priestess from the DMT.  I think I’ll sleep well tonight.

The Serpent and the World.

The concept of the Ouroboros is central to much of the world’s mythology. This universal symbol denotes the paradox of our existence.

HPIM0287
Although not, strictly speaking, the World, this card uses similar imagery, complete with an Ouroboros serpent around the man in the center – GE

Also called the Pleroma, the Great Round, the Cosmic Egg, or any number of related things, the Ouroboros is most often pictured as a snake or dragon biting or eating its own tail, thus sustaining itself through its own destruction. It first appeared (I think) in ancient Egypt, and has been integral to various mythic, religious, and esoteric traditions ever since.

Its meaning is twofold: on one hand, its devouring of itself symbolizes the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth; the snake thrives on its own demise. In order for there to be life, there must also be death, and vice-versa. On the other hand, the circular enclosure created by the snake symbolizes one-ness. A perfect unity with and of the Universe. On a collective level, this most often represents the Universe prior to Creation by splitting of binary opposites. If you imagine the dualistic Yin-Yang symbol to be our world now, the Ouroboros would be a uniformly grey circle. On an individual level, it usually represents the time after death and before birth. Together, these two aspects of the Ouroboros can be combined in an attempt to explain the nature of the singular and cyclical Universe.

Creation occurred when the Ouroboros opened up and split in half (when the Egg hatched, if you will). From a cosmic, fifth-dimension sort of perspective, though, the Ouroboros is still intact. The opposites through which we perceive our existence are just an illusion that is a result of our inability to experience the world on anything other than a moment-by-moment basis.

HPIM0292
The World – TdM

I’ve written before about how the Tarot itself is akin to a wheel, making it a veritable model of the Ouroboros. Each card represents a single point upon the wheel, but together they make a unified whole. This is representative of how we experience the Tarot and life in general. There are several cards which specifically evoke the Ouroboros; there are two which, to me, are direct representations of it, and fittingly enough, they are located at either end of the Major Arcana. I’ve already written about the Fool. He is like the soul which has not yet departed from the enclosure of the Ouroboros. The woman dancing in the center of the World card is like the soul which has rejoined it (apotheosis is the term). More than showing the enlightened soul, though, the World (or Universe, as Mr. Crowley dubbed it – which pleases me very much) shows the Great Round itself. This card shows the entire universe as we understand it on a symbolic level. The Ouroboros itself is represented here by a huge wreath (which also shows up on the head of the Fool in the RWS – ahem). The wreath is held together by ribbons that remind one of the infinity sign.* Inside, we see the eternal soul of mankind. She is a woman, but she embraces her male aspect by holding a wand in either hand. Only a person who has embraced his or her entire self, including the anima/animus, and his or her shadow self (the Devil), can reach this state of being in life. Outside, we see the four worldly elements symbolized as four animals. These are outside of the circle because within we would not recognize them as separate from each other.

HPIM0294
The Universe. Notice that the woman dances with a snake, and that their form is that of the infinity sign – CHT

If any single card contained within itself all of the other cards, it would be the World. The dancer is the Fool as he completes his journey. Everything he’s learned can be boiled down to four elements (the suits of the Minor Arcana), but ultimately he must reconcile their differences and incorporate them all in his life. That the figure is a dancer is not accidental. The World illustrates a fluid state of being. The correct mixture of the four elements is ever-changing. This is the nature of the Universe. Stasis is an illusion of the human condition, just as opposition is.

The Wheel of Fortune (card 10) is similar to the World. Located about half way through the Majors, the Wheel is the Ouroboros as the Fool gazes upon it from the outside. Having been taught by the Hermit, he begins to understand the true nature of the world. But he has more tests to complete. When he finally reaches the World, he is no longer on the outside looking in. He is on the inside, or rather, he is one with the Great Round. There are ups and downs, but he understands that rather than being subject to the arbitrary whims of Lady Fortune, these ups and downs are equal and eternal. The serpent lives as it dies.

HPIM0295
This is such a cool version of this card – SaM

From the World springs the Fool, and the cycle begins again. Myths and stories would have us believe that, after one tumultuous journey through the symbolic Underworld, we are complete, and remain forever in the state of ecstasy that is the World. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true in real life. After successfully undergoing trials and tribulations, we do indeed feel like the World Dancer. But what good would the lessons learned during our own personal “Hero’s Journey” be if we didn’t get a chance to incorporate them into the next chapter? So we emerge from our revelry, more experienced but newly Foolish, to begin again and learn how to better ourselves even further. In this way, the Tarot is more like a spiral than a wheel, always circling around, but ever-rising. And so we continue, on and on, until we eventually die and rejoin the Great Round for real. Until you’re born again, that is, and the World keeps on spinning.

 

HPIM0293
The World Serpent, biting its own tail – DMT

*You could imagine the wreath to be the cycle of the Major Arcana, and these two infinity ribbons that tie the wreath together represent two specific cards. They could be the Fool and the World itself, as the two points at which the circle is joined together. Or, they could be the Magician and Strength, cards 1 and 11, respectively, located at the start and midpoint of the cycle. Each of the figures in these cards usually has an implied infinity sign over his or her head. These infinities are especially apparent in the RWS, but of course in that deck, the position of Strength is no longer at the midpoint.