Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Channeling Friends in High Places

Still recovering from the cold. I'm good-to-go for horizontal activities... so to speak. It's just that I lack sufficient pneumasomatic energy to sustain a raid on the wild godhead, only a light stroll down previously-trod paths. That's a colorful and self-aggrandizing way of introducing another repost.

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.


chris m said...

What if God was one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus,
trying to make His way home.

So glad you're doing MOTT again. I'm working slowly through it, along with "The Last Superstition," St. Athanasius's "On the Incarnation," "Liberal Fascism," and Simon Schama's "Landscape and Memory."

mushroom said...

To be an individual is to live on the surface of the group, so to speak, but with roots deep within it.

It is very much a koan, I think. Perhaps this is the reason I have always been fascinated (as many are) by history -- general, national, religious, and familial. It's the reason I think stories are so important.

On Steiner, I have not read his work extensively, but from what I have read I can see where it would resonate with UF. I got the impression that Steiner was "not far from the kingdom of God", as far as what he had to say.

ge said...

To say Steiner and UF have the same February 27 birthday is a bit dubious considering calendar-changeovers, but to call them both [ideal] Pisces may be copacetic....from a fellow fish

julie said...

Oh good - once a week means I can actually keep up with the reading this time :)

...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.

Hm, that seems like a rich subject all its own, given recent discussions of millenialism. That said, at least O→(k)sionally, the disciple manages to break free and surpass the master - for instance in UF's case. Right?

Open Trench said...

I threw a series of Tea Parties-- first with Black and then with Green.

Served with sugar, then with cream.

Despite heavy intake, neither myself nor my guests noticed any change in our political orientation; if anything we craved government hand-outs even more.

***This Brought to You by the Committee to Reelect President Obama*****

Gabe Ruth said...

Well that clears it up. I will move this one to the front of the lineup to decide if I should expend the effort required to stay in this conversation.
I read an interesting back and forth on Balthasar at First Things (I believe it was old), on whether he was reliably orthodox. I think his critic was punching above her weight and his defender was quite able, but the concerns brought up are real. I'm inclined to agree with his defenders, mostly because I have a great deal of difficulty seeing the point of a static, cautious, cowering existence being allowed to continue by an omnipotent God. But then I would think that, since I am subject to pride.

Gagdad Bob said...

John Paul, Ratzinger and Balthasar were all members of the same intellectual circle, especially the latter two.

Gagdad Bob said...

In other words, if Balthasar is not acceptable then the Pope isn't Catholic and bears relieve themselves in outhouses.

julie said...


Also, if I remember correctly, it was very helpful to do your Omwork on this subject, but Bob being Bob the posts made perfect nonsense even if you hadn't done the reading yet.

By which I mean, I read MotT, but it probably took me several times as long to get through it as it took him to blog it, and past the first couple of chapters I was, as usual, hopelessly behind. Nonetheless, the one illuminated the other.

julie said...

In fact, now that I think of it: per the post's point about Bob's Unconscious, I often find I'm far more likely to be on the same page if I'm hopelessly out of sync or even reading something else entirely. Maybe that's just me, though...

Gagdad Bob said...

As Petey says, better to drown in the same ocean than to float in separate boats.

John Lien said...

Is that a hipster raccoon?

I just found a free download of MOTT. Does this sound legit? Meaning, the book isn't copyrighted?

Don't want to start off on the wrong foot by stealing.

Gabe Ruth said...

I am aware of his friends in high places, and this inclines me towards trusting my intuition that he's got something really right. But I tend to think about him the way I think about alot of your writing, that is, requiring a lot of rumination and double checking. The concern is, when you're hanging with popes, people may give you more intellectual authority than you merit. Your disclaimer yesterday shows you have considered this problem. I think if you publish your thoughts, that raises the stakes significantly. Now, as inciteful as you are, you don't have the pope's number on speed dial, so your ability to influence people is limited to your ability to convince them verbally, and so you are fairly safe. No one reading here has shut there mind down.

Van said...

"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."

I like this part even better the seconde time around. And I haven't even gotten to the UF parts yet.


John Lien said...

To answer my own question. It looks to be stolen, on the third page where the ISBN number and such should be, there is this bit of text in a different font.

This project represents a work of LOVE.All texts so far gathered, as well as all future gatherings aim at exposing interested students to occult information. Future releases will include submissions from users like YOU.

Those sould like weasel words for "it is stolen." I'll purchase a copy. Fellow coons, hold me to it!

wv: oveld

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

Great post.

Jim said...


About the new picture, you can not be serious, you would let a poor innocent little raccoon have some PBR. Poor thing that’s just over the top cruel, at least let 'em have Fat Tire, or Shinner Bock or maybe Firestone DBA. But PBR what happened did Cuz D drink all the good stuff? :-)

Gagdad Bob said...

There was a beer worse than Pabst: Hamms. If all beer tasted like that, it would be like all women being Gloria Allred.

julie said...

They had catchy commercials, though...

Jim said...

Hamms was worsser about same as Lucy Lager (a.k.a. red cross) just thinking about those makes me want to stop drinking(if you buy that one you can have this bridge some yokels tried to block over the weekend, cheep)

Gagdad Bob said...

Lucky was just bad -- even real bad -- but Hamms had a special nastiness -- some extra ingredient that almost made it something other than beer. Hard to imagine that someone made it that way on purpose.

Plus Lucky had those riddles on the bottle caps. If you couldn't solve them, it meant you shouldn't drive. Nice touch.

Jim said...


I am impressed, I had no idea you had such vast knowledge of re-cycled piss marked as beer. I wonder why I drank the stuff, guess peer pressure. I'm sure you only drank it for research purposes. Right, you and Cousin Dupree, behind the Safeway next to the dumpster on breaks. ;-)

Gagdad Bob said...

Other bad beers I've known:

Milwaukee's Best
Miller Lite

Never liked Bud, either. Come to think of it, there weren't any good American beers before the microbreweries, were there? I used to drink Coors, mainly because it went down like water.

Gagdad Bob said...

It wasn't behind the Safeway. It was right outside -- and inside -- the Market Basket where I worked for ten years while putting self through college. Or maybe I played at college while putting beer through myself. Yeah, that was it.

Jim said...

Also, Brew 102, all "lite" beers IMHO

Van said...


I liked the logo.


I liked their bear mascot... As a kid.


Liked the Clydesdales.

I'm sensing a trend.... Mainly that their beer all wasnt worth pissing.

I did like coors though... It was the water, and not a lot more.

Cond0010 said...

"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. "

Dang... I haven't been this excited to get/read a book since I got my first copy of "The Dungeon Masters Guide" for the game Dungeons and Dragons waaaay back in the late 70's...


julie said...


Seems to me D&D had a fairly profound effect on some people's lives, back in the day. I'm pretty sure it's part of why my husband is as good as he is at what he does now.

To the eye that can see, MotT is immeasurably more profound, and it has a proportionally greater effect. It's not an easy read, but it is a deep one.

Open Trench said...

Beer is made of rotted grain. Beer poisons, bloats, and stupifies those fool-hardy enough to imbibe it habitually.

Of all beer Coors is best because it contains the lowest percentages of the deadly ethyl alcohol and other girth-expanding carbs.

Now wine, on the other hand, gently ferments and results in healthy compounds like resveratrol. Plus Dionysus endorses wine.

The distilled alcohols are for the real drinkers among ye, Irish lads and lassies and stout Scottish boys. All corruption is removed by the heat of distillation, yielding a healthful elixir. A clear complextion and deep sleep come to those who can take it straight.

All other vegetable alkaloid intoxicants must be shunned as Devil weed and that means Jimson weed and Nightshade too.

Cond0010 said...

@ Julie

Yea, D&D was real fun back in the day. For me it was an interactive book where you could live out a much more exciting life than the banal day to day life of an 'ordinary' American Kid.

One thing I did learn about the game early on was that it was real fun to give the players all the loot and ice cream they could handle, but after it was done there was a 'Okay, now what' moment and so we'd have to ... well... start over, again. Had to do it 3 times over a period of ....4 or 5 years to finally get it right where the entertainment value maintained a 'long term buzz'.

It was great entertainment for a bunch of 'dateless dorks' (which, looking back, would have been real easy had we the eyes to see). Sadly, like many childhood endeavors, D&D increasingly gave diminishing returns and tides of time prodded us all to do more reality based endeavors.

As a kid who really had a bad attitude (Think 'geek' version - heh), it really was a great escape (which inevitably was a kind of seduction to get back into the swing of things) and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Wasted Youth? Yea.

...yet I wouldn't have had it any other way.

PS: If you want to know what those 'D&D sessions' were like, Shamus Young knocks it out of the Ballpark:

(*sigh*) Good times, good times...

SippicanCottage said...

We scientifically determined the worst beer in the world, or at least in Massachusetts circa 1978. There was a blizzard. Everyone was trapped in their house for two weeks. My buddy and I walked a couple miles through snowdrifts to the nearest package store to get beer. When we got there, the whole store was wiped out of everything except candy for diabetics and some syphilitic-looking turkey hot dogs. We made a beeline for the beer cooler, which was usually fourteen doors of everything. There was one, single, solitary six-pack of beer left in there.

There you have it. Conclusive proof. Genessee Cream Ale is the worst beer of all time, and perhaps needs to be in the running for least attractive fluid of any kind.

We bought it and drank it of course. It's been 33 years, but I think it still makes me a little gassy from time to time.

Gagdad Bob said...

Sure it's nasty, but it does kill aviary syphilis.