The Magician, Part IV.

Read Part III here.

 

The trickster can be considered the point of origin of the story because he generates the conflict which drives it. It follows that the tricksy Juggler is the appropriate card to kick off the chain of events that is the Major Arcana. But with the Magician, another way of looking at it becomes a bit more obvious (to me) than with the Juggler: he is at the start of the sequence, because he is the creator of the world.

Now, before I continue, I need to make mention of another card which received a wardrobe change and new name with the RWS: the High Priestess.

 

When the Magician was a Juggler, the High Priestess was called the Popess, the Female Pope, or Pope Joan, which essentially established her as the female counterpart to the Pope (the Hierophant in the RWS),* and leaving the Juggler to stand alone. The High Priestess introduces a certain level of ambiguity into these relationships – she can still be partnered with the Hierophant, or she can court another card (such as the Hermit), or she can stand alone as a symbol of unfettered femininity. Or, she can pair with the Magician, a pairing with some significance, as I shall attempt to explain.

In fact, I have already explained their relationship to some degree in my post about the High Priestess, and I urge any who are reading this post to please read that one, as well. It is a relationship of binary opposites, the fundamental relationship between the numbers One and Two.

Basically, One (the Magician) and Two (the Priestess) are the primordial creative forces of the Universe, progenitors of all that ever was and will be – everything boils down to them. From a psychological perspective, this makes total sense, because we experience consciousness only through constant subliminal comparison of hypothetical opposites. Certainly everything ultimately reduces to one, but one is meaningless without two as a point of reference. They complete each other, give meaning to each other, like the yin and the yang. It’s probably also partially rooted in biology: there can be no offspring without both a father and a mother. The Magician is the Cosmic Father, and the High Priestess is the Cosmic Mother.** They are the personifications of the purely abstract notions of male and female, which are themselves symbolic of all other binary opposites.

Now, all this is technically by virtue of their numbers, and not necessarily of the characters themselves, so it could be argued that the Juggler and Popess represent these very same concepts as the Magician and Priestess. From a numerology standpoint, they absolutely do; but I think the artistic differences between the old and new help to highlight certain ideas that would otherwise have remained obscure.

The Magician is generative, and the High Priestess is receptive. The Magician may be the initial spark, but the Priestess is the incubator. We tend to think the gift must precede the receipt, but in the grand scheme of things, it really comes down to the classic conundrum of the chicken or the egg. One simply does not exist without the other.

~~~

Having established that the Magician is actually an equal, though opposite, creative force as the Priestess, the question of his position as first is raised once again. From a purely symbolic perspective, as explained in the High Priestess post linked above, his very masculinity is the answer. One precedes two, and one is considered masculine while two is feminine. Men come first, unfair though it certainly is,*** and we have been conditioned to think that way for an age. Look at any of the three Abrahamic religions which prevail in the Western world: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all bow to (the same) God the Father. They’re not the first. And whether you’re an adherent to any of these religions or not, your cultural heritage is imbued with the indelible imprint of at least one of them. Their message is not wrong; their specifics are not always right; but right or wrong, they are. It’s inescapable. We think the way we do in large part because of the people who thought before us.

It is only because the Tarot was conceived in this atmosphere that such a bias is reflected in the cards. This is true of the Marseilles just as it is of Waite’s cards. It could easily have been reversed along an alternate timeline, and it could easily be reversed now, without really upsetting the intrinsic meanings that either of these cards hold (symbolic attributions to the physical characteristics of genitalia aside, these associations of sex with numbers, or with any form of opposites for that matter, are totally arbitrary constructs). By all rights, they should both be in the first spot. But unfortunately our temporal limitations insist that one or the other has to be first, and the simple fact remains that the Magician just, well, is.

~~~

This is a perfect opportunity to make an essential point: “God” is not truly confined by gender or sex. Or rather, maybe “God”, as the Christians define him, is confined to his masculinity. But one of the reasons I continually find myself frustrated with this sort of religion is that “God” is used primarily as a name, a contrived denoting device with a capital “G”.**** This causes great confusion, because the word is not a proper noun in and of itself. There have been many gods and goddesses (lower-case “g”) since the dawn of time (that is, the awakening of consciousness). It becomes a question of whether or not any god by any name, be it God or Allah or Zeus, is really the top dog on the divine hierarchy.

When I say the Magician is God the Father, what I’m really saying is that the Magician is the demiurge. He does indeed create and manipulate the physical world, which is represented on the card by the aces upon the altar. He set up the table, he put the items in their places on it, and he moves them into their proper positions to effect the results he desires.

And yet, he still holds his wand above him, as if anything could be above him.

Your average demiurge refuses to acknowledge that he (or she) is not actually the supreme power in the Universe.***** Most of them probably honestly do not even realize it; it’s an awareness beyond their capacity, and indeed, beyond the capacity of many mortals far below them.

But the Magician knows. He knows that what he perceives as his own will is in truth the will of the Universe; that for every feat he accomplishes through his magic, he is merely a conduit for something greater; that desire and decision for him are ultimately illusions. He knows that, though earth-bound mortals may call him God, he is really only a hand of the supreme godhead.

The Magician is remarkably humble for his esteemed position. Most gods are jealous, and some are even vengeful, when their vaulted status is called into question. But though the Magician is receptive to divine influence, he is not receptive by temperament as the Priestess is. He is an active agent. It is why so many creator types do seem supreme. They harness divine energy, and they do stuff with it. The Magician may not be any more impressive than the Priestess is, but his actions certainly draw more attention than her meditations.

I liken it all to a pencil sketch: the Magician is the pencil, the Priestess is the paper, the drawing is Creation, and the artist is the higher power. Imagine for a moment that the drawing somehow developed consciousness. Doesn’t it make sense that, from its limited stance, it might view the pencil as its creator?

~~~

By himself, the Magician might remain a mere trickster, even with his new ritual attire (you didn’t really think the trickster only wears clown clothes, did you? That would be too obvious). It is only because of his relationship with the High Priestess – a relationship the Juggler does not openly share with the Popess – that he is able to ascend to the level of Creator, because man cannot become father without a mother to bear child. The potential is really there either way – the Magician does not have to be defined by the Priestess, any more than she is defined by him. But the concepts represented by her go a very long way in refining what exactly it is he stands for. It is a perfect illustration of the idea mentioned above, that One is incomprehensible without Two.

It is also a good example of the true nature of the demiurge: he may appear all-powerful, but he is not the sole power in the Universe. He just makes the flashiest show of it.

So, we can now view the first numbered card of the Major Arcana as the Trickster and the Demiurge. Could there possibly be more? You betcha.

~~~

*It’s interesting to note that the Empress and Emperor are side by side, and the Popess and Pope are on either side of them. I think that this was supposed to make a point about worldly authority versus spiritual authority during the Renaissance – the worldly being contained within the jurisdiction of the spiritual. By the time Waite was designing the RWS, this notion about the relationships between Emperors and Popes was outdated, or had at least lost much of its practical significance.

**Hajo Banzhaf refers to the Magician and the Priestess as the Heavenly Father and Mother in his book about the Tarot and the Hero’s Journey. They are not necessarily literal persons, just concepts, and they are followed by the Earthly Father and Mother, a.k.a. the Emperor and Empress.

***Institutionalized oppression is real, it takes on many forms including sexism, and it is unfair. I know this, so please don’t castrate me for stating my observations about the world around me. And, even in a patriarchal society, those who are enlightened know that true femininity cannot be extinguished. The High Priestess is a shining example of the sublime feminine power, even from her place among the shadows.

****In the NKJV Bible, any time the word “god” appears, it is actually written in the text as GOD, all caps, and it is really nothing more than a roughly-translated English placeholder for the unpronounceable tetragrammation, or true name of the Hebrew god. It is used interchangeably with LORD (if you’ve ever heard the names Yaweh or Jehovah, you’ve heard the most common attempts at phonetic verbalization of the tetragrammation). So, technically, the religious book does not actually claim that the Judeo-Christian deity’s name is God. However, its use of the word, combined with the crusade to demonize any and every other named god and goddess, has proven to be an effective way to impress the divine supremacy of this being into the minds of the masses over time. I don’t think the tetragrammation is very common knowledge to the the average self-professed Christian these days, so for all intents and purposes, their god’s name is God.

*****So, if not God, then what is the supreme power in the Universe? This post is not the place for such a discussion, so let it suffice to say that, whatever it is, it’s probably beyond our ability to define with our primitive languages. If there was a Tarot card to represent this supreme power, I would say it’s the World, although, truth be told, I don’t fully believe such a concept can be limited to a single card. If anything, the entire Tarot deck is itself the closest representation of this Universal force, and every single card is but a minute aspect of it, even the seemingly comprehensive World and the powerful demiurge Magician (and, I might add, the much maligned Devil).

 

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The Juggler, Part III: The Magician.

Before there was the Magician, there was the Juggler. The Juggler was a character of potentially ill repute, yet simultaneously one which could delight onlookers with his tricks as he pleased. The dual nature of the Juggler’s character, combined with his divinitory associations with incredible mental dexterity – not to mention his almost clownish clothes – suggests the Trickster archetype of myth, which was the subject of the previous post in this series.

However, in the modern English-speaking Tarot community, the Juggler has effectively become the Magician, thanks largely to occultist Arthur Waite and the artist commissioned to illustrate his Tarot, Pamela Smith.

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TdM Juggler and RWS Magician*

The two versions of the card incorporate similar elements, especially the table upon which are set various implements, but there nonetheless appears to be some discrepancy between them. While the traditional Juggler** wears motley performance attire, the RWS Magician is dressed in the robes of a ceremonial magus. Especially striking is the Juggler’s hat; it is so conspicuous in its size and shape, that its absence gives the Magician an air of seriousness by comparison. We know the Juggler must possess a high degree of focus to carry out his whims, but a major part of his trickery is his ability to divert our attention from his true purpose, and his hat helps to disguise this purpose. The Magician cares not for such distractions, and instead an ethereal lemniscate, symbol of infinity, floats above his head. It is the same shape as the brim of the Jugglers hat.

The Juggler appears fluid and at ease as he performs. The Magician’s stance is poised and deliberate. He holds his wand to the sky in one hand, and with the other he points to the earth. This pose is a reference to the Hermetic maxim, “As above, so below.”*** This essentially states that what is true of the macrocosm is also true of the microcosm, an idea which is central to magic theory. The Magician works his will on earth and the greater Universe unerringly conforms. The pose also suggests that the Magician has the ability to take abstract or spiritual energies from the Universe “above”, and make them manifest on earth. Either way you look at it, micro to macro or macro to micro (in truth, it’s a constant back-and-forth rather than just one or the other), the Magician clearly wields awesome power.

Now we’ll turn our attention to the table. The Juggler plays with various objects that can usually be likened to the suit symbols of the Minor Arcana, although they can just as easily be random knick-knacks;**** but the items upon the Magician’s table can be mistaken for nothing else. There are four of them, and they are very clearly implements of the same sorts as are pictured on each of the aces. This implies that the Magician has the raw forces of the elements at his disposal. The combination of his Hermetic stance and the elemental aces on his table serves to underscore that his will is all powerful. He can manipulate the physical elements of this world with ease, but his true influence stretches far beyond the realms of crude matter.

In short: the Juggler performs tricks and illusions. The Magician performs magic.

~~~

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For this post, my aim was to examine the basic elements of the Magician card versus those of the Juggler. It is a digression from the overarching theme of mythic archetypes that is the purpose of this series, but I think it’s a necessary one to make in order to more fully appreciate what’s coming next as compared to what came previously. The Magician can still be associated with the Trickster, by virtue of his being a reincarnation of the Juggler (by the same token, the Juggler can be associated with all that I will claim for the Magician in the upcoming installments). But there is another archetype the Magician represents that is different than the Juggler’s trickster: God the Father, Creator of the Universe. It might seem like quite a leap, but I assure you, it’s all there in the cards.

~~~

*Interestingly, these two cards appear to be mirrors of each other. Is there significance in this? Perhaps, and I may or may not return to this thought in a future post.

**For the purposes of this post, “traditional Juggler” refers to the Marseille-pattern Juggler.

***Might not the Juggler also be considered to be making the same statement through his gesture? It can certainly be read that way. The Juggler may very well be hiding all manner of secret hermetic and occult wisdom, but if this is true, the many anonymous hands that contributed to his appearance left no indication that it was intentional. We just can’t know. One of the things that made Waite’s Tarot so revolutionary (aside from Smith’s Minor Arcana illustrations) was that he published a book detailing the cards and their symbolism. The Marseille Tarots are occult only because they were interpreted that way long after their creation; the RWS, on the other hand, is occult because its creator made it so, and we do know that, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

****The items on the Juggler’s table often vary from card to card. For example, the early versions, such as the Visconti and the source material for Huson’s Dame Fortune’s Wheel Tarot, show stock items of the street performer’s trade. While this might include a wand or a cup, it also might include balls or spinners or other random, non-Tarot-related items. Oswald Wirth’s Juggler, on the other hand, has objects on his table which very obviously correspond to the minor suit symbols (ironic, considering he never made a Minor Arcana). The Marseille Juggler typically falls somewhere in the middle: the items on his table appear to include a couple coins, a small cup or two, and a knife, and he holds a baton in his hand. These are very similar to the suit symbols, but they admittedly look nothing like any of their respective aces, so the similarities could therefore possibly be only coincidence.

The Hierophant.

I was reading Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom the other day, when I came across a statement about tradition in the chapter on the Hierophant.

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The Hierophant – CHT

A statement about tradition in the chapter about the Hierophant?! This should be absolutely no surprise, because the Hierophant is the card of tradition, of education, of orthodox religion, in a word, of institution. There are lots of statements about tradition in any writing about the Hierophant. But this was a specific statement that I’d never read before, asserting an idea I’d never thought about, and it shook me to my core.

The statement was preceded by a discussion about the modern trend of spirituality without religion. That many people in recent years have forsaken a specific religion in favor of a personalized brand of spirituality that accepts all religions, cobbling together aspects from many as they suit the individual. This sounded familiar to me; indeed, this is how I’ve been approaching spirituality for years now.

There are benefits to this, Pollack writes. People who base their spirituality on many systems tend to be more accepting, more open-minded, and generally more understanding of the human condition on a global level. This is all well and good, but there is a trade-off.

It becomes a question of focus. Faith based on many traditions can be superficial. Faith based on a single tradition, regardless of which tradition that is, has the capacity to run very deep. The statement made by Pollack that really drove this home for me was this: “While this idea opens great possibilities, many people have noted its potential for shallowness. The fact is, throughout the centuries, the great mystics have always spoken from deep within a tradition.” (Pollack, p. 56).

I didn’t like reading that. But I could not deny it. And the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that my own spirituality has been suffering for lack of structure.

I’ve gone through many phases of spirituality throughout my life so far. With the exception of the brief stint I had with Atheism, I’ve always thought faith was very important, and an admirable quality in any person. But I’ve also always been distressed by the problems caused throughout history by people who took their faith too far at the expense of others who held a different faith. This seemed inevitable to me, however, so long as we believed that one name for God was more correct than any other. In other words, so long as we take the Hierophant’s teachings as absolute law, which many people seem to do.

My solution to this dilemma was of course to put my faith in the impersonal Universe – the All that has manifested in the minds of people over time as various gods. To name this power was to limit it, and I thought this was part of the problem. I would study the religions to see what they had to contribute, but to follow a religion itself was to suffocate the indefinable truth. To attempt to name that which cannot be named only led to failure. As I’ve said before, language is our greatest power, but also our greatest limit. Some things just cannot be put into words.

The problem is that faith is an incredibly personal thing, different from one person to the next, even if they follow the same religion. An unnamed, all-encompassing monism is just too difficult to identify with on a personal level, no matter how true it may be compared to a synthetic religious tradition. It’s hard to put your faith in a higher power if you don’t even know how to address it. Our tiny minds just can’t fathom it. For me, it worked for a while, but as the years go on, I’m finding my faith growing thinner and thinner, despite the fact that I think it’s the best way.

I do believe faith is very important. Even if it turns out that the atheists are right, and there is no higher power, faith allows us to feel like there is a purpose to this life, a reason to keep going. It’s a question we all ask, a dilemma we all face at some point in our lives. Kierkegaard, considered by many to be the father of existentialism, solved his existential crisis with the paradox of faith. And it is a paradox. It takes strength to have faith, especially when things are difficult, and especially in this day and age when it has become fashionable to believe in nothing. I feel the existential dread growing daily in my heart, and I wonder if perhaps I wouldn’t find some relief if I just relented and went back to church.

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The Pope – TdM

But is church the answer? I still live a virtuous and spiritual life without it, don’t I? At least I try. And what about the other religions? If they’re all true, which one’s the best for me? How could I possibly decide now, knowing what I’ve come to learn through years of building my own spiritual beliefs? Can tradition really be the foundation of a true and deep faith?

It’s not that I think I’ve been wrong to build my own brand of spirituality. It’s just that, without an established tradition to draw from, I am finding it more and more difficult to answer the questions I have. I thought for a moment that I’d just build my own, new tradition. But for it to really fit the definition of tradition, it would have to be much longer in the making than a couple of years. Well, doesn’t everything have to start somewhere? But let’s just say, a hundred or so years after I die, that by some miracle I will have finally succeeded in establishing a new spiritual tradition. With all the benefits of tradition come all the pitfalls that have plagued religions since the dawn on time. It will become subject to dogma, and fail just as every other religion seems to have failed. I don’t want that.

For now, I will remain floating between traditions, keeping my personal faith as best I can. I will continue to study the religions; perhaps one day something will click, and I will have found my religious niche. Until then, I will keep the tradition of the Tarot, such as it is, as my guide through these murky waters of spirituality. And if any card represents this aspect of the Tarot, it is the Hierophant.

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Tradition doesn’t have to mean religion. The Ancestor is a powerful take on the Hierophant, and she elicits ideas of tradition that pre-date any organized religion by centuries – WWT

These days, the Hierophant seems to get a bad rap. Nobody wants to be associated with the stuffy traditions of our forebears. But he does have a lesson for us: traditions have only been in place for so long because they serve a purpose. Yes, it is possible for a tradition to outlive its purpose, but to trash religion solely because it is an old-fashioned institution is unwise. We are lost, and until recently, religion has been all we had to keep us on some sort of path towards enlightenment. The Hierophant keeps the old secrets that underlie traditions, and we would do well not to forget them. He wants to share his wisdom with us; why can’t we be gracious and accept his advice? We hold the power to decide what to do with it, but we first have to listen.* If we accept the Tarot is a viable spiritual guide, we can only do so because the Hierophant has had a hand in remembering where we came from, so we can figure out where to go. He stands at an integral point along the pathway to enlightenment.

I don’t think tradition and institutionalization is the final answer to my spiritual conundrum – far from it**- but I do think that it is something I must somehow accept and understand before I can move on past it to a greater understanding of the mystery of faith. It’s like the old writer’s maxim: you must understand the rules before you’re allowed to break them. The Hierophant is there right near the beginning to teach you those rules. You can’t hope to move very far past him on the path of the Tarot without heeding his advice.

Now, Mr. Crowley thought that the Hierophant was a symbol of the old age, and that we are on the brink of a new one, with a new spirituality. I believe that he was right, and that this all-inclusive “eclectic” brand of spirituality that Pollack has noted is gaining momentum is quite possibly the beginning phases of Crowley’s New Aeon. But it all means nothing without remembering what the Hierophant stands for. If we forget the traditions of our ancestors, then no matter how accepting of others we have become, it will all be superficial, and our faith will not serve us in our darkest moments, when we need it the most. I believe that we can internalize the lessons of tradition in our personal lives while maintaining a healthy respect for the traditions of others.

With all of his knowledge of the Old, the Hierophant has the unique capacity to direct us towards the New with confidence, because he knows the present only has meaning in the context of the past. If we want to make true progress, we have to remember where we came from, otherwise we’ll just slip up and fall back to where we started anyway. If we want to build our own nontraditional brand of spirituality, we first have to listen to what the Hierophant tells us about the meaning of faith within tradition. After all, he knows more than you do about this sort of thing. He’s been doing it for a long, long time.

 

*I just realized, oddly enough, that I suggest this exact approach in my post about another card that is normally considered to be the polar opposite of the Hierophant, at least as far as morality is concerned – the Devil. It just goes to show that morality is not set in stone, nor should it be, which is one more reason why I struggle with traditional religion. Context is key.

**My soul will not be institutionalized. I have both consciously and unconsciously rebelled against the Institution my entire life (often to my detriment, I’ve realized in retrospect, but I cannot be barred from who I am). This is largely why Pollack’s comment about the Hierophant was so difficult for me to digest.

The Tarot and Spirituality: or, Why I Do What I Do – Part II

I ended part one of this post with an explanation of why I do not subscribe to any religion. Here, in part two, I will bring together the themes of symbolism, mythology, religion, and spirituality that were previously introduced, and in doing so I hope to begin to illustrate the role the Tarot plays in my personal spiritual life.

~~~

I’ve established that I do not follow a religion, at least not in the way a devotee would. I do, however, voraciously study literature from many world religions, as well as their mythologies (I actually prefer mythic to religious literature, but as they are interconnected, I believe it’s necessary to study both when possible in order to understand the big picture. Of course, many cultures are survived only by their mythic literature, such as that of pre-Christian Scandinavia. Religions such as Christianity, on the other hand, can have both available. For example, the Book of Common Prayer is religious in nature; Milton’s Paradise Lost is mythic; the Bible has elements of both. But I digress..). I feel compelled to try and hold as comprehensive a worldview as possible, and I think this is one way to work towards that end. I think of it as a never-ending quest for wisdom of Odinic proportions.

For a long time, I’d yearned for a different sort of “Holy Book” which could somehow synthesize the notions of the universal truth hinted at throughout the spiritual writings of mankind.

It is my personal belief that such a book does in fact exist.

This is where the Tarot comes in.

The Tarot – or, more specifically, the Major Arcana – has within it the mythic archetypes. Granted, it does not have all of them. Even if all 78 cards of the deck consisted only of Major Arcana, it would surely not cover every possible mythic archetype. What it does cover is the so-called “Journey of the Hero”. The Journey of the Hero was first made accessible by comparative mythologist and Jungian disciple Joseph Campbell, and is essentially a phrase encompassing a vast body of myths which are usually interpreted to represent, at their fundamental level, the subconscious spiritual development of the psyche. This means a story which serves as a metaphor for a guidebook on living spiritually. To use Christianity again as an example, the Gospels are four versions of the Hero’s Journey in which Jesus Christ is the hero.

If you’re interested in reading more on the Journey of the Hero, I recommend Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. For further reading on how this is reflected in the Major Arcana, I recommend Hajo Banzhaf’s Tarot and the Journey of the Hero. There may come a time when I will write a post elaborating on all of this archetype stuff, but for now I must try to keep my digressions brief.

The point is that the Major Arcana contains the archetypes that make up the story told, in one form or another, by every religion’s myths.

The Tarot is also immune to the effects of dogma which plague written books of faith, and for three reasons. Firstly, aside from the titles of the cards, there is no written language in the Tarot. The language of the Tarot is symbolism, as Eden Gray wrote. Pictures. Words have the tendency to be taken out of context and twisted for selfish ends by selfish people until even the original author would fail to recognize his intent behind loaded rhetoric. Or, perhaps less sinister, the language barrier between cultures can also twist and distort meanings. A symbol on a Tarot card, though, can not be taken out of context, because to see one symbol is to see the entire card, and there is no language barrier between pictures. Furthermore, words can and will be interpreted in numerous ways, regardless of the single meaning intended by the author. The symbols on the Tarot, by contrast, also have infinite possible interpretations – and that’s the point. People will argue tooth and nail over what a word means, but it is a given that no two people will see a Tarot symbol exactly the same way, and that’s ok.

Secondly, although I’ve been referring to the Tarot as a book, it is a deck of cards, and the “pages” can therefore be rearranged in any order. Unlike other books, the Tarot interacts with each reader differently, and to each situation differently. It’s as if your spiritual guidebook re-writes itself for you every time you read it. It is totally individualized, and cannot be susceptible to corruption over time the same way a fixed doctrine is.

Thirdly, the Tarot lacks a feature prevalent in other books of faith, and that is a code of ethics. It is ironically the moral ideals in a Holy Book which are most often bastardized. There are no fixed morals in the Tarot. Which is just as well, because I believe morals and ethics are highly subjective and entirely situational. All of this is not to say that you can’t go to the Tarot with an ethical dilemma; on the contrary, the impartial Tarot can be a valuable guide through these shadowy realms.

As I’ve stated before, I don’t mean to tell anyone how to live their spiritual lives, and I don’t mean to question the validity of anyone’s religion. I enjoy studying the religions, and I value their messages. This post is rather intended to show that the Tarot can stand up as a spiritual guide comparable to any religious book. In addition, the Tarot is designed to work for divination. It can be used for magic and meditation. Being a deck of cards, it can also be used for gaming, and is thus a reminder to never take life too seriously. It deals with the spiritual realm through the Major Arcana, and connects the spiritual to the worldly realm through the Minor Arcana. We as humans are aware of nothing else. Mr. Crowley said the Tarot works as a model of the Universe, and I tend to agree with him. By “Universe”, Crowley was referring both to the Macrocosm and the Microcosm. We are all a part of one Universe, and we each contain the Universe within ourselves.

We are all powerless in the midst of this vast and seemingly uncaring Universe. By the same token, however, we are a part of that Universe, made of and from it, and therefore have all the potential that comes with it. We are each the masters of our own Universes, but can only truly be in control of the Micro by relinquishing our futile attempts at controlling the Macro. The Tarot helps to understand this as well, because in order to successfully use it, one must accept that he or she is simultaneously in and without control.

It’s seemingly paradoxical concepts like this that make the universal truth so difficult to describe with words. This is the purpose mythology serves: to illustrate with symbolic language those truths – not facts – which cannot be communicated overtly. This too is the role the Tarot plays, using symbols which are interpreted differently by everyone yet subconsciously understood by all, and it is why I’ve dedicated this blog to a better understanding of this mystical and magical pack of cards.

The Tarot and Spirituality: or, Why I Do What I Do – Part I

I am fascinated with mythology.

I believe that by studying the world’s myths, one can reach previously un-imagined depths of understanding of what it really means to be human. In other words, to me, myth is the solution to the existential quandary.

Virtually every culture around the world has created for itself a system of mythology. Each of these systems is different from the next, highlighting what makes each culture unique. However, there are striking similarities between all of them that seem to defy the boundaries of space and time. These similarities must point to a universal truth; what that truth is, though, apparently cannot be easily put in words except by using symbolic language. This has been the subject of study and debate among cultural anthropologists, historians of religion and literature, psychologists, and other experts in the vast field of the Liberal Arts for decades. Probably the most popular method of analyzing mythology is derived from the work of psychologist C.G. Jung, whose theories on archetypes and the collective unconscious have revolutionized the way we understand symbolism.

It is important to understand something here before I continue, lest I unintentionally upset the religious reader. A myth is not the same thing as fiction. While most would agree that a myth is not based in fact, a myth does illustrate certain underlying, psychological truths about what it means to exist in this world. What is the difference between truth and fact? That is a philosophical discussion which I do not wish to get into here, but please keep in mind that, as I continue to refer to myth within current religions such as Christianity, I am not dismissing the stories told in the Bible as mere fiction.

Some people confuse mythology with religion, usually thinking that mythology was the religion of ancient cultures. A myth is, at its core, nothing more than a symbolic story. Religion, on the other hand, is a structure upon which a group of people can organize their collective spiritual beliefs. Religion and mythology are two separate entities, but it is true that religion has often utilized mythology as a means of conveying its spiritual message. So, not all myths are necessarily religious in nature, but all religions do make use of myth to some extent. Sort of like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

It is characteristic of modern monotheistic religions to place their faiths in a book, such as the Bible or the Koran. The concept of a Holy Book certainly has its benefits for a literate society. One has only to look up the appropriate passage, and his or her spiritual question is answered according to the subscribed belief system. More importantly, the religious (and yes, to some extent, the mythic) legacy of a culture is preserved for posterity in a way many pre-modern societies never could do, much to the chagrin of the aforementioned historians of religion and literature.

But the Holy Book is prone to dogma, which has led to many unfortunate (and unnecessary) violent conflicts between groups of people who ultimately want and believe the same fundamental thing. We get caught up in our cultural differences, and the similarities we share – those which illustrate that indescribable universal truth – are forgotten.

I want to take this opportunity to say that I don’t follow any religion, because I don’t believe any single religion – or its Holy Book – is right. Or, more correctly, I don’t think any religion is wrong. Rather, they are all right (I don’t like the word “right” in this context, but for lack of a better term, it will do). For this reason, combined with the unfortunate historical tendency for conflict, I have done as the Hermit of the Tarot has done, and forsaken the religion of my upbringing in favor of a totally individualized form of spirituality. I don’t mean to tell anyone how to live his or her spiritual life; I mean only to implore that we all seek the harmony inherent in our religious and cultural differences. In other words: Live and let live!

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I will continue this post in Part II, and I promise I will actually get around to the point of the blog once there – how exactly does the Tarot tie into all of this?