Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Channeling Friends in High Places
As mentioned last week, I think I'll revisit my series of posts on Meditations on the Tarot from a few years back. It took a couple of months to fully unwind, but even then, riffing on one card every day or two does a disservice to all -- you, me, and Unknown Friend -- since it should be more of an organic and interior-directed process that proceeds at its own supernatural pace.
Rather, one needs to "dwell" in the book in order to actualize its pneuma-catalytic power. You must get into it so that it might get into you. To paraphrase UF, the images are like "enzymes" that facilitate growth when sprinkled over the sincere and open soul. You know, like the yeast in the bread.
Therefore, instead of reposting one card per day, I should probably slow down and do one per week. That way I can simultaneously begin playing with the new series mentioned a few posts back, on the universal metaphysic beneath religious form. Or something like that.
We are about to spend some quality timelessness with Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (heretofore MOTT). It is the most profound work of Christian spirituality I've ever encountered, and is so dense that you can't possibly read it just once and be done with it. Rather, it is one of those books that needs to be reread every year or so. The problem is, it would probably take a year to properly read, and much longer to actually internalize and assimilate.
I suppose I've read it cover to cover maybe four or five times. I know this because I have two copies, each with different colored highlighting. And yet, each time I read it, I get something new out of it. I know this because new passages are highlighted on subsequent grow-rounds.
Also, as I mentioned in a comment the other day, the first time I tried to tackle it, I got nowhere. It was just too difficult; turns out we were both too dense. And when I say "dense," I mean this in a kind of literal way, in that its light could not penetrate me. It was there, of course, but without a receptive agent to transmute it, it was just another brick in my wall of books.
But by the time of my second attempt a year or two later, a transformation of some sort had taken place that allowed me to understand it -- or rather, loosened whatever it was that was obscuring the light.
Indeed, it was like entering a vast cathedral, only this time with the lights on. In other worlds, without the Light, an infinite space can appear as a black wall, which is essentially the predicament in which the atheist finds himself. He imagines he's telling us about an objective barrier, when he's really just describing the back of his I-lid. It's difficult to imagine a worldview more banal.
There is a reason that all spiritual traditions speak of "illumination." The visible light we see with our eyes is an analogue and symbol of the light we perceive with the intellect (and of which the intellect is composed).
In other words, the intelligibility of the world is and must be prior to its materiality. To be sure, the spiritual world is an intelligible world, but in order to perceive it, you will require the uncreated light of the awakened intellect, i.e., the nous.
Without activating the latter, you will again be staring at a blank wall (or you will simply have to take someone else's word for it). Jesus will just be a community organizer, if he existed at all. Miracles will merely be statistically rare events instead of vertical lessons. The Bible will be a collection of "flat" or even silly stories instead of simultaneously urgent and timeless memos of infinite depth from the Self to your self, O --> (¶).
A couple of important points before we begin. The book is not about Tarot reading, nor does it have anything to do with the occult or new age.
Rather, the author, who is Catholic -- indeed, the afterword is by none other than Balthasar, and I've seen him name-checked by Ratzinger -- merely uses the twenty two major arcana of the Tarot as a basis for what we call spontaneous verticalisthenics, or theodidactic soul-jazz. It's almost as if he free associates and uses the cards as fixed forms, or unsaturated archetypes, to explore his own incredibly fertile spiritual imagination.
But his ideas are for the most part completely orthodox and intelligible to others, unlike, say, occultists, who may or may not speak truth, but clothe it in idiosyncratic and obscure ways that can be extremely difficult to decode or reproduce.
While earlier in life the author (who was born in 1900 and died in 1973) was a follower of Rudolf Steiner, he broke with that group and converted to Catholicism at the age of 44. In fact, he was booted from Steiner's Anthroposophical Society for being too independent of Steiner (who died in 1925).
Anthroposophy is yet another instance of a spiritually gifted (but erratic) occultist whose fluid ideas are reified by his generally mediocre followers into an orthodoxy: the master ruins the disciples and vice versa.
Importantly, this is a dynamic that afflicts virtually all groups, as Bion recognized in some of his early papers. Indeed, it is precisely what had happened to Bion's own field of psychoanalysis, as Freud the explorer became Freud the inerrant prophet of a pseudo-religious infra-mystical order.
In relation to orthodoxy, Bion himself was analogous to the "messiah" (a term of art) or mystic who brings new life to the deadened forms, but only in order to return it to first principles.
Similarly, "tea partiers" are aptly named, since they are simply re-animating the timeless principles of the Founders, principles that have been systematically undermined by the left. Truth that isn't regularly rediscovered and lived is subject to entropy, just like everything else (to be perfectly accurate, it is obviously not truth that dissipates, only the person who falls away from it).
The author worked on MOTT in his 60's, and it was originally published posthumously in 1984 (in English in 1985). Although the identity of the author is known, he wished to remain anonymous, so we will respect his wishes and refer to him as Unknown Friend (UF), which is what he calls himself.
As a matter of fact, this is one of the charms of the book, as UF truly is our friend, and a precious one at that. Not only is he our friend, but he will be the invaluable friend and guide of any serious spiritual seeker from now until the end of time. And it is very much a "brotherly" relationship, despite his obvious spiritual eminence.
With regard to my post the other day about the person who was asking for spiritual guidance, UF is a fine example of how one may form a living relationship with a saint, sage, mystic or mentor, despite the person no longer being an active biological concern. The fact is, they are very much alive, but they will only come to life in the dynamic transitional space between you and them. But how is this different from any other deep friendship?
For example, I naturally love my family, but I also love the space it simultaneously creates and exists in. This can go unappreciated, but it is the background context of my whole life. It is the space in which I live and breathe. I suspect I'd feel rather hemmed in and oppressed without it.
By the way, I'm basically engaging in this verticalisthenic exercise for my own benefit, so I'm going to try and pretend you folks aren't here. This is because I need a break from us. Therefore, it's time for Bob's Unconscious to take the wheel of the cosmic bus, and Bob's Unconscious lives in its own Private Idaho, although, at the same time, this particular Idaho is a universal Wedaho.
In other words, we all share the same deep un- (or supra-) conscious, so paradoxically, the further away I get from you, the closer we are (and that includes you, Bob). Or in otherer words, the conscious ego is more atomistic and particle-like, whereas the vertical world is more wavy and nonlocal.
One thing we like about MOTT is its jazz sensibility, of which Bob has written in the past. To improvise means to stand up and play "over" the group. But to produce great jazz, one must simultaneously be a part of the group while transcending it. This complementarity is the key, and I think it embodies a general lesson, almost a koan. That is, Man is the group animal whose very groupishness is the matrix out of which his individuality emerges.
To be an individual is to live on the surface of the group, so to speak, but with roots deep within it. A narcissist fails to appreciate the importance of the group in making the individual possible, as if he could exist without it. And yet, the collective could never be the "end" of our existence, as leftists believe. Which is why the left is such a graveyard of true individuality, an anonymous (in the negative, pre-personal sense) herd of predictable barketypes.
I suppose it's somewhat analogous to the body/mind relationship. One cannot have a mind without a body, but to reduce the mind to the body is to do away with the person and our very reason for existence. Or again, one could say that this reflects the exoteric/esoteric, or inner/outer, complementarity of religion.
Anyway, we're just going to riff on UF's riffing, and see where it takes us, beginning with the Foreward.
Here we are tipped off at the outset to the jazz sensibility of our Unknown Friend, who writes of his alignment with a venerable tradition that unites "a spirit of free research with one of respect for tradition." In so doing, his purpose is to "incarnate" his own words within this tradition, or to make his words flesh, so to speak.
Again, it is this organicity that one must appreciate, as our Unknown Friend comes to life before us. He will not just evoke a link between us and him, or between you and the great community of spirits who have preceded us on this earth. Rather, he is tossing down a vertical lifeline that orients us to the cosmic center:
For the links in the chain of the tradition are not thoughts and efforts alone; they are above all living beings who were thinking these thoughts and willing these efforts. The essence of the tradition is not a doctrine, but rather a community of spirits from age to age.
So jump into the living waters of this great river, and prepare to meet thy Ocean.
I guess this would be the book's most famous reader. That's the two-volume German edition at the bottom of the pile, right below the poems of Suzanne Somers.