By Christine Payne-Towler
A dear friend asked me this question, and I am trying to answer it in this venue. The way it was first framed to me was:"How can esotericism rescue mankind from the asphyxiation of materialism"? ie: how can all this stuff make a difference in the observable shape of things, and give humanity new hope?"
Later, my friend expanded the question to include these (slightly altered) remarks: "The marrow of my question was directed at what I perceive to be the crisis of materialism- how do we transcend the epistemology of the landfill? Why do humans covet 'stuff'? - because they've forgotten what we're made of. Can esotericism persuade humanity that the 'mud envelope' holds a starfire, kindling a reevaluation of our priorities? Furthermore, what ecology can be forseen developing under [esoteric considerations]? My premise is that materialism is a manifestation of ... 'drowning in the body'; a predilection for substance over essence. The essence resides INSIDE the body, but it is forgotten."
Amen to that! This question is at the heart of the human dilemma. What are we doing here? What *should* we be doing while we are here? And what basis are we using for answering these questions?
To begin, let's review the definition of Esotericism common among modern academics. [see "What is Esoteric?" in the Tarot University Library Archives] Esotericists work within a meaning-realm of correspondences which are acoustic, sonic and vibrational as well as sensual, elemental and cultural. Such a vast web of resonating world-within-world connections requires the translation help of a sensitive and highly-tuned specialist to fully bring the important threads and themes into focus.
Such practitioners do much of their work directly in the realm of unmediated consciousness, outside the realm of materialization. This operating-space is sometimes called trance, fantasia, the Imaginary, or the Imaginal, but under no circumstances is it to be considered merely the realm of idle daydreaming. Traditional esotericists are, at minimum, masters of the inner life; meditation, contemplation, and magical visualization. Yet for all their invisible efforts, these Magi judge their results by transmutations which take place in the literal, observable world of things and being. Whether the location of the manifestation is the body of the operator, or the environment in which s/he is embedded, there will be demonstrable change or metamorphosis which extends from the inner life to the outer life, providing the "proof in the pudding" that grounds the interior effort in outer results.
Respect for wisdom and those schooled in the Interior Arts has characterized the cream of humanity since Antiquity. Here's Plato for a description of what makes a human something more than an animal:
Plato [Cratylus: 399c-400d]: relays Socrates claim that anthropos 'man' derives from anathron ha opope 'looks up to see'- "I mean to say that the word man implies that other animals never examine, or consider, or look up at (anathrei) what they see, but that man not only sees (opope) but considers and looks up at that which he sees and hence he alone of all animals is rightly called anthropos, meaning anathron ha opopen." -Plato, op. cit. Translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1871
The human "looks up to see", and also examines and considers what is seen. Taken literally in the context of western civilization at the time, what was being "looked up at", examined and considered, was the lives of the Gods being played out over the heads of the people in the motions of planets along the zodiac. The science of astronomy is at the hub of esotericism, the master peg upon which all esotericism hangs. Astrology is the study of the heavens, heavenly bodies, heavenly regions, heavenly proportions and heavenly influences raining down upon us from above. The calculations and observances of Astrology translate the cycles of the heavens into their earthly implications, generating mythic sequences for human contemplation, and pointing out potential results and consequences in fleshly terms. Astronomy was humanity's first teacher of mathematics, and from it were derived all our sciences and any number of philosophical systems as the skill of calculation and prediction grew around the world.
To further unfold the model: At the intersection-point of above and below, between heaven-raining-down and earth-receiving, there resides a fertile matrix wherein souls are engendered, consciousness is nurtured, and destinies played out that elaborate the infinite potentials of the fertile matrix into manifested actuals. Humanity, being traditionally viewed as the "middle term" between God and Nature, has that proportion, that symmetry or conformation which blends and links the primordial two worlds or realms. We humans are the sensitive membrane, the responsive surface formed between Nature and God, Below and Above. We are ensouled, walking Earth. Our delicate senses, inner and outer, register the subtle currents of invisible pulses pouring into the flesh world from the vast mass of Dark Matter in which we are embedded. Our sturdy bodies take on the forms and structures required to house this aetheric sensory network, translating impulse into action for the sake of the world. The entire arrangement -- soul, mind, will, emotion, and body -- represents an exquisite and ever-changing answer to the question "what would happen if Divine Thought could concretize itself and play out in flesh?"
Thus by definition, humans live in multiple states, both visible and invisible. By watching the heavens (the macrocosm) for signs of the trends and cycles playing out there, people have learned to translate down into our own private and collective lives (the microcosm) those same trends and cycles. The idea is to connect ourselves one way or another with the protagnists of the cosmic Drama, in the hopes that their victories will be our victories, their gains our gains. Long observation across many cultures and times has taught humanity great respect for these macro-influences, to the point where even modern investors, politicians, and law enforcement officials pay attention to at least the Moon's cycles.
The oldest and longest-established purpose for esotericism is to anticipate and prepare for the descent of the macro-cycles into our micro-world. There are as many applications for the anticipatory strength of astrology as there are situations to apply it to. They all have in common the desire to get a rough outline of the combination of forces at work behind the surface screen of events, whether those events are in the past, the present, or the upcoming future.
The body of thought currently denoted by the term "Perennial Wisdom" was already old and long-held even in the Alexandrian era (~200 bce). Citizens of the city-states of Italy had been digging up the remains of Greco-Roman culture for four centuries already before the Italian Renaissance burst forth. True to their times of origin at the full flowering of a Classical Revival, the Trumps of Tarot denote a set of Memory Statues inherited from the Classical canon.
While the world awaits the definitive study on Tarot imagery as an Art of Memory system, we can still profitably note the parallels and follow the intellectual trail of crumbs to realize what we are looking at. Each of the Trumps (as well as the suits, the numbers, and the royalty) has their place in the memory parade they collectively embody. In more modern terms, we can see the Trumps as a collection of mnemonic "nodes" set up in the collective imagination to embody and contain the teachings of the subjects being memorialized.
What would be the benefit of having a pack of Memory Statue images to play cards with? For one thing, interaction with the Master Concepts of the ages orders the aspirant's interior life and allows one to separate out and heal the layers of the Self substanding the ego and outer personality. Every culture provides some method for contemplation of the Archetypes, from carved and painted places of worship to song and dance cycles acting out the dramas of the gods. Putting attention into this deep interior material actually smooths out one's psyche and allows self-understanding and forgiveness to melt the harsh edges of our outer experiences.
By putting ourselves in relation to, and in conversation with, these longstanding objects of contemplation. we allow generations of our own ancestors to awaken within us, to release into the present self the stored wisdom of the ages. Whether the subjects are godforms, muses, archetypes, mythic characters, or the planets and signs of astrology, there is always a resonance within the Self when these ancient teaching stories are told. While absorbing the twists and turns of mythic tales, we find our own motives are being examined and our range of choices detailed before us.
Some of the major metaphors employed in the ancient myths are those of relationship -- fateful encounters, love, sex, birth, miracles and blessings, but also pain, betrayals, abandonment and sometimes death for those humans who get swept up into the scale of these larger forces. Most of the time in these bodies of story and image, the Godforms (characterizations of the Planets, Elements, Muses, Arts, or Dieties) look like human men and women, making it easy for an observer to project themselves into the imagery quite directly. Often the stories put the protagonist(s) through processes that challenge and concentrate their primordial qualities, which then must be tested further by struggles against adversaries determined to frustrate their aspirations.
When one of these stories becomes alive within us, we can easily sense the resemblance between the labors of the the Gods and our own corresponding sufferings "here below". (Remember the emphasis on metapmorphosis and transformation that accompanies interactions in the Imaginal!) Plus, the story-cycles of astrology, Tarot and Alchemy (among others) are all so rich and varied (due to the large number of characters, moving parts and processes) that there is virtually no end to the possible scenarios a creative visualizer could envision with their help. The exercise of imagining, assimilating and undergoing transformation within these numinous image-stories was a major entertainment and magical matrix for the Renaissance mind to bathe itself in. In these ways, mythic models carried the psychological freight that we nowadays lay on self-help books and counselors, and we still turn to them for that assistance today.
Over time, a theory and praxis of attraction-and-repulsion magic, called Eros Magic, became elaborated to explain and attempt to harness the forces set loose in the world when the human dimension impinges upon and cross-pollinates with the mythic. Eros Magic was first articulated to the West in association with the Moslem theory of Optics, because that was the best model at hand to explain why people would sometimes suddenly and "at a glance", be smitten and drawn in by a hypnotizing internal image mediated by an outer act of sight (such as love or hate "at first sight", or St. Paul being blinded after his vision of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus). According to this theory, it was believed that our eyes not only look outwards towards the world around us, but they also receive and ~take in~ the world outside, therefore infecting the looker with whatever was being looked at.
"The rational basis that Alkindi [died c. 870] gives to magic is founded on the assertion that all terrestrial things emit "rays" which exist everywhere simultaneously thereby permitting the magician who understands these things to effect change at a distance.
These "rays" of terrestrial things are related to the rays of the stars and planets, thus heaven and earth exist in a reciprocal relation to each other. More than this the human voice can effect change. Thus the arts of the Trivium (Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric) have esoteric/magical correlates and perhaps most importantly, by concluding that the magician can exploit these insights without the involvement of any higher power Alkindi's scientific magic is made wholly secular. " http://www.new-library.com/zoller/books/alkindi/stellarrays.shtml
Understanding this simple but vastly consequential belief helps us to understand the cyclic frenzies of inconoclasm and knowledge-suppression that have affected Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism during various eras in the life of Christianity. If gazing upon a certain kind of image can infect the eye and mind of the beholder, then imagery and literacy in general have to be regulated in order to protect "innocents" from being polluted. Those who have the clout to determine what the populace can and cannot look at, portray, or describe possess a huge hold on the collective imagination. The rebirth of the Classical Image into the European Imaginal sparked a rebirth of classical Magic as well.
Certain medieval bodies of imagery -- astrological manuals, alchemical treatises, religious histories and magical grimoires -- all demonstrate aspects that closely parallel the themes and preoccupations of the Trumps. What is clear is that certain revolutionary/evolutionary ideas, processes, and human potentials were being encapsulated, transmitted and awakened through contact with this genre of imagery. In the case of Tarot, and despite a lack of long wordy essays explicating the content, the images still work their magic. Nowadays, since we have Jung's theory of archetypes to help us, we understand better why allegorical, magical, or "loaded" imagery can be extremely psychoactive even across temporal, spacial, or cultural lines. Like it or not, there has never been anything that "official" protestations or suppression efforts could do about the consciousness-restructuring impact of a well-conceived and well-placed image.
What a great "secret weapon" loaded imagery makes! In every case, a picture is worth a thousand words, for good or ill. Once an image is installed into the individual or collective imagination, it is nearly impossible to remove it. Imagery is mind-expanding, it can easily serve the needs of propaganda, and it is psychologically very contagious. Further, according to the principles of Eros Magic, a strongly imagined picture of a desired outcome can be emitted from the eye of its envisioner and stir up matching results in the outer world of manifestation. Literally, in the blink of an eye, the witnessing gaze of observation could be transformed into the projected beam of directed will, through an invisible act of the imagination (either on the part of the the projector, or the receiver).
Leaving aside the context of those times, this dynamic still has the same impact for people today as in the Renaissance. Certainly when we look around this technological society, where we are confronted on every side with the inventiveness of the modern mind, it is hard to argue that the theory of Eros Magic is a delusion. Every surface our modern gaze lands upon, every gadget and appliance and vehicle we utilize in daily life, was once merely the gleam in its inventor's eye. No one can say that the field of imagination has become any less magical, potent, or effulgent than it was in the Renaissance! We moderns have added vastly to the amount of "things" in the world, hence the number of associations and magical implications that can be attributed to those things. The power of association that has traditionally been yoked to allegorical imagery has never yet been revoked by the human psyche. Hence the Magician, the "Imagier" or Imagineer, the Master of the Imagination, wields a master-key to the Collective Mind.
Whoever can envision and stabilize the fullest description of a situation can direct the action in that situation, even if s/he only "whispers the idea" into the collective imagination with a well-placed verbal or literal image. We who live in the age of the internet can witness this fact in action better than any previous generation. There is truly no limit on the creative mind, not now, not ever. The issue is finding the best spot to "post" one's envisionments, whether that's in physical space, psychic space or cyber-space.
Another benefit of esotericism for the modern mind is the expansion of understanding possible when a given event is examined in the light of its governing Archetypes. Whether it is despair over the clash of civilizations, or the flash of road rage when cut off in traffic, we all need stabilizing models to help us get our bearings when the circumstances get wacky. This is a vastly aggravating, caffeine-driven, hurry-up-and-wait civilization we live in, and most people need real help to retain their focus amidst the endless harassments, interruptions, and indignities foisted upon us every day. Our ability to remember who we are and keep our eye on our goals is increased when we can link to a resonant Archetype and let that carry us through the chaotic moments.
By the same token, using esoteric models to evaluate and pinpoint what the moment is pregnant ~with~ allows the magician to navigate more expertly, or to help his/her clients to do the same. To illustrate with an example from my years as a Tarot reader, it can make a huge difference to a client whether they are characterized by the cards as a servant or a warrior, a hermit or a queen. Although a person's situation might contain elements of each role, the appearance of one character rather than another has a galvanizing effect on the individual, giving them guidance about appropriate behavior and attitudes as they leave the session and walk back into the situation they were seeking counsel for. Certainly, the Emperor is also the head servant of the realm; no doubt a Queen must sometimes become a warrior. But whether in a delicate romantic communication or the chaos of a huge life-change, attitude and emphasis can make all the difference to the success of one's enterprise.
In general, the larger we can expand the context within which we view our experience, the less the smaller fluctuations of the moment will throw us off our stride. Some life decisions feel huge at the time but won't have a lot of impact for the long run, while others come in like sneaker waves and turn the tide without us seeing them coming.
How does one determine what is worth spending time, energy, and consciousness on, and what is simply a fancy distraction? Esotericism helps us discriminate the short-term flurries from the long-term trends. Whether it's by charting astrologically, portraying the forces in the Tarot archetypes, following the calculations of sacred numerology or plotting lines of force on the Cabbalah Tree, esotericism gives us a rich, polyvalent language through which to talk to our issues, and symbolism through which the situations and energies themselves can talk back to us.
A seasoned practitioner of the Imaginal Arts knows that the shortest distance between two points, (such as where I am vs. where I want to be), is not simply plotted on a time-space map, but is angled through the Astral Plane (aka the dreamtime, the imagination) as well. Notice the degree to which who you are now has been called forth into your life through the dreams and visions you had years ago. To the extent you can recall your previous self sending expectations and beliefs towards your future self (the person you are now), you will realize the technique that will help you gain control over your future!
Ultimately, what a modern Magus learns is that conversations with the infinite allow for self-evolution, faster learning, and even entirely new outcomes. One of my most frequent experiences in my own esoteric practice is of the Cards (charts, calculations, Archetypes) stimulating me to think in directions I would not have ventured without their help. I often have the distinct sensation that the images/values/symbols are ~talking directly to me~, right into my head so to speak. My journal is filled with notes from readings that far exceeded what I was trying to understand when I first posed the questions. One of the reasons I first became a Tarot reader was to provide myself with things to meditate on when my own understanding would get to the edge of the known, like the Fool poised at the edge of the cliff. Esotericism offers solid conceptual ground to move across when standard, easily-accessible cookie-cutter solutions are nowhere to be found.
Collecting up the ideas that have been touched upon in this article, we can see a trend forming that helps to illuminate the territory that the esotericist calls home. The prediction and decoding of macro-cycles and "heavenly" influences is certainly an ongoing concern. There's also the issue of contacting and awakening the highest wisdom achieved by human societies, stored in mythic teaching-stories, snapshot images and condensed symbols. The undeniable psychological and theraputic value of the world's numinous godforms extends beyond the experience of the individual life, adding meaning to tribal, national, and international developments even generations after their physical origins are erased. Indeed, viewed as Archetypes, the protagonist-forces of esotericism (whether seen as planetary entities, elements, heros or demons), represent necessary spokes in the great wheel of human development. Who was it once said -- "if [the gods] didn't already exist, humanity would be forced to invent them"?
But the influence works both ways. Just as medieval optics showed the world working on the eye (the "I") just as much as the eye works on the world, esotericism remains the historical receptacle for potent envisioning, projective thinking, and lively cross-pollination with invisible forces. By providing us with vocabulary, practices, and points of view that open out into the infinite, we can with its help allow ourselves to slip the bonds of time and space, transcend our limits, and hopefully look back at ourselves from a platform of greater objectivity and creativity. Not only does esotericism train us to think in the widest, deepest, and most profound terms about our capabilities and potentials as human. It also sends us back into the world with new symbols, images and thought-forms to set loose into the collective unconscious, to hopefully act as enzymes mediating further creative responses in yet-unknown others.
Our modern era is a perfect example of why the fear our ancestors felt about the escape of the unmediated image was real. We have only to look around and see how awash we all are in advertising and its consequences, to realize our vulnerabilility to the loaded image! If nothing else, by filling our mind's eye with the fabulously dense and rich cognitions of esotericism, we can perhaps occupy our craniums with contents that are more worthy of our time and attention, rather than allowing our minds to continue to overflow with trash, effluvia, and recycled parts. Eugenics aside, the ancient program for "building a better human" in most civilizations always included a wide exposure to the wisdom-well tended by their treasured esotericists, whether they were styled as shamans, philosophers, occultists, ecclesiastics, or magicians.
As my wise and esoteric muse John Meador puts it, "The treasury of the Imaginal far surpasses the coffers of materialism."
To close, let me share a selection of lines from Proverbs 7-9, written in the 4th-3rd century bce. This is quoted from pp.19- 20 of "An Anthology of Sacred Texts By and About Women", edited by Serinity Young:
...Say to Wisdom, "You are my sister,"
And call Understanding a kinswoman...
It is Wisdom calling,
Understanding raising her voice;
She takes her stand at the topmost heights,
By the wayside, at the crossroads,
Near the gates at the city entrance;
At the entryways, she shouts,
"O men, I call to you;
My cry is to all mankind.
O simple ones, learn shrewdness;
O dullards, instruct your minds.
Listen, for I speak of noble things;
Uprightness comes from my lips;
My mouth utters truth;
Wickedness is abhorrent to my lips.
All my words are just,
None of them are perverse or crooked;
All are straightforward to the intelligent man,
And right to those who have attained knowledge.
Accept my discipline rather than silver,
Knowledge rather than choice gold.
For wisdom is better than rubies;
No goods can equal her.
I, Wisdom, live with Prudence;
I attain knowledge and foresight...
"Mine are counsel and resourcefulness;
I am understanding; courage is mine.
Through me kings reign
And rulers decree just laws;
Through me princes rule,
Great men and all the righteous judges.
Those who love me I love,
And those who seek me will find me.
Riches and honor belong to me,
Enduring wealth and success;
My fruit is better than gold, fine gold.
And my produce better than choice silver.
I walk on the way of righteousness,
On the paths of justice.
I endow those who love me with substance;
I will fill their treasuries....
Happy are they who keep my ways.
Heed discipline and become wise;
Do not spurn it.
Happy is the man who listens to me,
Coming early to my gates each day,
Waiting outside my doors.
For he who finds me finds life...
But he who misses me destroys himself..."
Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn her seven pillars,
She has prepared the feast,
Mixed the wine,
And also set the table.
She has sent out her maids to announce
On the heights of the town,
"Let the simple enter here";
To those devoid of sense she says,
"Come, eat my food
And drink the wine that I have mixed;
Give up thy simpleness and life,
Walk in the way of understanding."
To correct a scoffer,
Or rebuke a wicked man for his blemish,
Is to call down abuse on oneself.
Do not rebuke a scoffer, for he will hate you.
Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Instruct a wise man, and he will grow wiser;
Teach a righteous man, and he will gain in learning....
For through [Wisdom] your days will increase,
And years be added to your life.
If you are wise, you are wise for yourself;
If you are a scoffer, you bear it alone.
FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE and EASE OF REFERENCE, HERE ARE THE LINKS IN THIS POST:
LINKS THROUGH IMAGES:
Research: Esoteric Tarot, Literature and Practice;
Publisher, The Tarot Arkletters
Bishop, Gnostic Church of St. Mary Magdalene
Founder: Tarot University;
Author: The Underground Stream;
Subscribe to the Tarot ArkLetters VIA
The Tarot ArkLetters are a publication of Christine Payne-Towler, founder of Tarot University Online. Christine offers classes, readings, and private sessions.
*copyright 2005 christine payne-towler all rights reserved*