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  • Between Heaven and Earth: The Hanged Man

    “Therefore, our first impression of the Card plunges us into the heart of the problem of the relationship between man and gravitation, and the conflicts that this relationship entails,” states the anonymous author in Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism. (p. 330) “The Hanged Man represents the condition of one in the life of whom gravitation from above has replaced that from below.” (332) I suspect that the majority of MythBlast readers would subscribe to the notion that every earthbound crisis, whether it’s finances, health, work, or relationship difficulties, also contains within it a spiritual crisis, an underlying mythological narrative, or a hidden symbolic meaning. These invisible elements and their forces are often veiled in our everyday lives. This is because we can’t, as yet, easily recognize these patterns while existing in a world that wants to be rationally controllable and visibly understandable. The material world permeates so much of our thinking and leads to a preoccupation with logic, rationality, and reason. But working with archetypes and mythology requires a new type of logic, one linked to irrationality and paradox. So while in our everyday parlance we may understand that economic terms such as inflation, deflation, and depression are also psychological terms, we can’t easily translate or universalize these expressions to manage the invisible and transcendental. To continue this thought, it behooves us to reveal the hiddenness that drives our (largely) unconscious motivations and actions. As Carl Jung wrote, “The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate.” (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 Part 2, 71) Again though, I suspect that our readership is rather au fait with these situations because we spend a great deal of our time contemplating symbols, their meaning, and valuing the power of imagination and metaphorical thinking—activities that attune us to the soft whispers of our souls. And furthermore, if we deeply value our inner life, we must therefore also highly value our will too. According to Letter XII in Meditations on the Tarot, our will (a power deeper than thinking and feeling) is connected to the unseen spiritual realms. Once the intimations from these realms are integrated within ourselves, they require concrete and practical expressions on the physical plane. Just as the Hanged Man suspended from a T-shaped cross made of living wood from the Tree of Wisdom—whether perceived as Yggdrasil (the sacred tree in Norse cosmology), the cross of Jesus, or Arbor Vitae (the Tree of Life)—we, too, would do well to contemplate the world from an entirely different angle. In the card, the figure’s feet are tied to the realm of the unseen unconscious, prompting us to find our sure footing in the heavens. Our grounding is to be found in the encompassing spiritual realms, and this is what brings forth the potential for wisdom and indeed the enlightenment signified by the figure’s halo. Now, terms like eternal and temporal are used interchangeably across cultures and traditions, and we could link here to Joseph Campbell’s discussions in the Renewal Myths and Rites section within The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959-87: “These are the two modes of considering God that Rudolf Otto has termed the ‘rational’ and the ‘ineffable’: the same that are called in India saguna and nirguna Brahman: the Absolute with qualities and without.” (p. 68) In preceding paragraphs, I’ve been discussing these two realms, whether we think of them as the invisible and visible, heaven and earth, or the spiritual and physical. Campbell also offers us another way to view them in this Sioux legend: ‘This rock,’ the holy woman continued, ‘is of the same red stone as the bowl of the pipe; it is the earth – your Mother and Grandmother. It is red; you, too, are red; and the Great Spirit has given you a red road.’ The red road is the road of purity and life. The various Indian nations have many names for this road. The Navaho call it the ‘Pollen Path of Beauty.’ Its opposite, the black road, is followed by those ‘who are distracted, ruled by the senses, and live rather for themselves than for their people.’ […] And so we notice now that even the ethical polarity that we recognize between the bird and serpent as allegoric of the winged flight of the spirit and the earth-bound commitment of the passions, here too is suggested. (68) This leads us to recall that it’s an indispensable skill to be able to hold the tension of polarities, to entertain contrary interpretations of reality: “winged flight of the spirit and the earth-bound commitment of the passions.” Because this, of course, is the basis for alchemy. And as Jung stated in the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 18: The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious is called the ‘transcendent function.’ […] This function progressively unites the opposites. Psychotherapy makes use of it to heal neurotic dissociations, but this function had already served as the basis of Hermetic philosophy for seventeen centuries. (689) We heal through numinous encounters while suspended between opposing fields of gravitation … and this is what the Hanged Man tarot card reveals. However, our world of increasing fragmentation veils the fact that we need to work constructively with polarities, and our anonymous author instructs us: Do not scorn anything or reject anything, if you have authentic faith. It is this, and this alone, which renders everything truly useful and which gives them value which they would not have without it. This is the essential message of the Hanged Man, the upside-down man, whose feet are above and whose head is below, whose zodiacalised will is an authentic witness of the truths of the twelve articles of faith, and who lives suspended between two opposed fields of gravitation – heaven and earth.” (364) We must hold the tension of such polarities within us, inclusively, because the poles and the exchanges between them are highly instructive for our lives while we “hang” between heaven and earth.

  • An Angel Kissed by a Demon

    Have you ever been in love? I was. I fell in love with an angel kissed by a demon. That’s how I experienced the hormonal havoc of adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, and huge quantities of endorphins. It was as if I had eaten a ton of chocolate all at once and began falling yet never fell. However, there is nothing mystical about the familiar butterflies in the stomach. It’s just our endocrine system, controlled by our biological rhythms, that has gone awry. All the mythology of love comes down to a couple of glitches in the hormonal system, an error in the arc of the arrow of Eros. Eros is the son of Aphrodite and Ares. How can you be normal if your parents are goddess of love and god of war? Free-spirited, capricious, mischievous, licentious—this handsome young man shoots arrows from his bow impetuously, on a whim, often by mistake, sometimes calculated, sometimes accidental. But there is no cure for the mystical spell cast by these arrows. He could use a good course in marksmanship. His arrows of love can make heaven out of hell and a hell in heaven. Zeus wanted to get rid of him because of the trouble he would bring to the world, but Aphrodite hid him in the woods until he grew up. The gods were later mesmerized by his gaiety, joyfulness, charisma, social skills and beauty. Zeus was certainly not bored, and Olympian mythology would not exist without his sexual field trips. Eros is an emanation of the spiritual and the physical, oppositions that can be harmonious as well as chaotic. Love can be the bearer of life, but also of death. Eros in Greek or Cupid in Roman mythology is archetypally associated with spirit and soul, consciousness and emotion, body and intellect. Getting lost and falling in love is a kind of death brought about by his arrows of love. It creates confusion because it aims directly at our ego: And since all life is sorrowful, and necessarily so, the answer cannot lie in turning—or “progressing”—from one form of life to another, but only in dissolving the organ of suffering itself, which—as we have seen—is the idea of an ego to be preserved, committed to its own compelling concepts of what is good and what is evil, true and false, right and wrong; which dichotomies—as we have likewise seen—are dissolved in the metaphysical impulse of compassion. Love as passion; love as compassion … And in both it’s the work of Eros … (Myths to Live By, 142) In absolute love all the negative traits of our ego are lost, which means ego as an “I” is dead. So, someone must die. In his love poem, Sadghuru explains this type of death: “Who but the lovers have been the most willing to sacrifice all that matters and themselves at the altar of love. Love, the tenderest and the most resilient of all human traits.” On the Lovers tarot card, an arrow from above is pointed at one of the figures on the ground and foreshadows the death of rational choice. The roles cast in this triangle are played by these characters: male, female, and a figure of the supernatural force that connects them from above. This is a card of attraction, choice, compassion, a card that has the same visual composition as the Devil. Instead of an angelic Eros, there is a demon at the top of the card. This card represents passion, illusion, and repression. Both cards are interpreted as the direction of a higher force. The appearance of the card may vary with the interpretation of the archetype. On some cards, there are three figures in the foreground. Sometimes there are two women and a man, in which case it is a matter of choosing between motherly, protective love and passionate, sensual love. On some cards, there are two men at the bottom, and they can be interpreted as a priest marrying a couple or choosing a path between the paternal or youthful spiritual and moral aspects of life. Or it may even be understood as a choice between homosexual or heterosexual relationship. It can be interpreted as a path between wife and a lover, or vice and virtue. That’s how things are on earth, but from above the magic potion is delivered in the form of an arrow to the one who chooses the path between. Does that mean we have no choice in love? “If you drink a love potion there is no full consent of the will!” (The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, p. 123) “The anima is the ideal that you carry within yourself that you put onto the different entities out there and you unite with that.” (The Hero’s Journey, p. 102) This projection is regulated by the arrow of Eros, the trigger of our hormonal hell.  Such unions can be fatal or blissful. The union of anima and ego can be transcendental in two directions. This is the crossroads between hell and heaven, but on this path, demons and angels do not play the roles of good guys and bad guys. Eros and the Devil are only symbolic interpretations of the metaphor of the transcendent. Love in itself is a heroic act. And heroes must sacrifice something. The aim of such love can be only that of the moth in the image of al-Hallaj: to be annihilated in love’s fire … Do we not recognize here an echo of that same metaphysically grounded sense of a coincidence and transcendence of opposites that we have already found symbolized in the figure of Satan in Hell, Christ on the cross, and the moth consumed in the flame? (Myths to Live By, 152–156) One of the most beautiful love stories is the Sufi story of the Devil as God’s most devoted lover. When God created man, he called the angels and asked them to bow to the human form. Lucifer, the best and most loyal of all the angels, refused to bow down to anyone but God. He did not want to be disobedient, as it is usually interpreted in a religious context. Let's take a closer look at his decision. Would someone who is so captivated by love refuse to fulfill the wish of their loved one? It’s not about being rude or arrogant or disobedient here. This is about love. The Devil could not have anyone else in his heart but his loved one—God. But God became angry at his disobedience and said: “Go to hell, get out of my sight!” This great love was bound by the shackles of the ego. Even today, the Devil suffers because he cannot see the one and only whom he loves, and he’s comforted by the memory of his beloved’s voice condemning him. Such enormous pain is often the result of loving. Love is sometimes hell! Now it has been said that of all the pains of Hell, the worst is neither fire nor stench but the deprivation forever of the beatific sight of God … What an image of that exquisite spiritual agony which is at once the rapture and the anguish of love! (Myths to Live By, 149) Orson Welles says that if you want a happy ending, it depends on where you end your story. The tarot card of Love doesn’t tell us how the story ends: “And in their kingdom, everyone lived happily ever after. And drank tea.” There is no such end. When this end occurs, you are no longer among the living. And since it is The End, there is no experience of love or life behind it. One of the definitions of cinema is that there is nothing before the beginning and nothing after the end. However, the card of Love does not mean the end, but rather the beginning of the journey. It invites both storm and stability, the union of two beings and the antagonism between the two sexes. It is obvious that the card does not advocate perceiving love through rose-colored glasses, chocolate candies, flowers, or the best sex of your life. This card hints at the transcendence of the ego and the spiritual dimension of heroism. Transcendence is not limited by our understanding of good and evil, or beautiful and ugly. An angel kissed by a demon, or a demon kissed by an angel, are two sides of the same coin. Maybe this very coin was glued to the arrow of Eros.

  • Requited Love

    There’s a story to every scar, physical or emotional. And the scar tissue almost always remains (in some form or another). Especially with heartbreak. We’ve all read enough well-meaning articles to know that we should walk away from  someone who doesn’t treat us with decency and respect. But it’s not just as simple as walking away, now is it? Often when we remove ourselves from a denigrating situation we’re left with huge insecurities about our self-worth. Perhaps we’re tempted to think that we’re incapable of maintaining a loving relationship, let alone be deserving of one. Self-woven narratives of insecurities begin to whisper into the psyche’s inner ears. Dakota tribal wisdom states, “If your horse is dead, dismount!” But it can feel almost impossible to give up a relationship that we’re so heavily invested in, even if at our core we know that it isn’t going anywhere. We may innocuously say that we simply want a lover who will meet us where we are, while continuing to choose people who will only disappoint us, not realizing that we’re trapped in the archetype of the unrequited lover. For example, we choose people who are unavailable so that our love is never requited … and our affection is never returned. But why would we do that? Possibly, because it keeps us safe. It’s why people can (and often do) unconsciously choose an addict, whose addiction means that they’re never grounded in present (vertical) time; or the lover who lives in another country and isn’t available in geographic (horizontal) time; or we chase the workaholic, who has no time at all and can’t reciprocate our feelings, even though they have the best of intentions. Opportunely, in such situations, there’s no chance to expose our vulnerability to the gritty presence of intimacy. Could the underlying issue be that we can’t receive or give intimacy to another when we don’t even have a close, intimate relationship with ourselves? And if so, have we the courage to recognise this and face it? In A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living, Campbell writes: “The distance of your love is the distance of your life. Love is exactly as strong as life.” (35) We may find it to be incredibly easy to say to a friend, caught in the same unrequited love situation as our own, that there’s nothing more ruinous than waiting for someone to love you back. And it’s not necessarily because this other person is too shy or immature to show their feelings; rather, they don’t feel the same way. They don’t really love you. Or, as the popular book and movie title bluntly states, He’s Just Not That Into You. We’re clearly not open to the same wise counsel that we’re so willing to readily impart to others. It’s why we sometimes overinvest in a friend’s heartache, because our own is too much to confront. But what does our friend who wrote Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism advise? Now, to feel something as real in the measure of its full reality is to love. It is love which awakens us to the reality of ourselves, to the reality of others, to the reality of the world and to the reality of God. In so far as we love ourselves, we feel real. And we do not love—or we do not love as much as ourselves—other beings, who seem to us to be less real. Now, two ways, two quite different methods exist which can free us from the illusion ‘me, living – you, shadow’, and we have a choice. The one is to extinguish love of oneself and to become a ‘shadow amongst shadows’. This is the equality of indifference. India offers us this method of liberation from ahamkara, the illusion of self. This illusion is destroyed by extending the indifference that one has for other beings to oneself. Here one reduces oneself to the state of a shadow equal to the other surrounding shadows. Maya, the great illusion, is to believe that individual beings, me and you, should be nothing more than shadows – appearances without reality. The formula for realizing this is therefore: ‘me, shadow – you, shadow’. Their Letter VI to us continues: The other way or method is that of extending the love that one has for oneself to other beings, in order to arrive at the realization of the formula: ‘me, living – you, living’. Here it is a matter of rendering other beings as real as oneself, i.e. of loving them as oneself. To be able to attain this, one has first to love one’s neighbor as oneself. For love is not an abstract programme but, rather, it is substance and intensity. It is necessary therefore that one radiates the substance and intensity of love with regard to one individual being in order that one can begin to ray it out in all directions. ‘To be able to make gold one has to have gold’, say the alchemists. The spiritual counterpart of this maxim is that in order to be able to love everyone one has to love or to have loved someone. This someone is one’s ‘neighbor’. (140) Know Thyself (Gnothi Seauton) is the foundation that allows one to love oneself and one’s neighbor. The Lover tarot card therefore is a reminder to be love. Because one can’t be separate from what one is. This is the love that we’re actually seeking. And it can be effortlessly requited, for the very fact that we are it.

  • The Trobairitz: How Access to Power Unfurls Creative Expression

    The JCF theme this month of lovers, against the background of Campbell’s early academic work on medieval literature, has provided an opening for me to examine how gaining access to personal and creative autonomy directly invites otherwise marginalized voices to sing. It is in these moments, I believe that mythos can exist as a breathing, fluid force that moves both individuals and cultures forward, rather than serving as a reductive cultural tool. Trobairitz is a medieval Provençal word, the feminine of troubadour, and descends from the root, trobar, meaning “to find.” The trobairitz, women troubadours, lived in Occitania, now known as Provence, at the end of the twelfth century into the beginning of the thirteenth century. There are twenty women known to have been writing during this period in Occitania, from whom twenty-three poems still exist. Some of the trobairitz were described in the vidas of the troubadours, a collection of often fanciful biographies written by medieval historians. From such writings, as well as the names and connections of the women, it is evident that they were aristocrats, patronesses of male troubadours, and often closely personally connected to troubadours. Eleanor of Aquitaine, grand patroness of troubadour poetry, was the granddaughter of Guillelm de Poitiers, the first recorded troubadour, and Marie de Champagne, Eleanor's daughter, hosted acclaimed stylized “Courts of Love.” Additionally, trobairitz Maria de Ventadour was the wife of Viscount Ebles de Ventadour, one in a long family line of troubadours, and Tibors was the sister of Rimbaut d'Orange. In addition, several of the women actually wrote tensons (arguments in poetic form) in conjunction with male troubadours. It is reasonable to conclude that the trobairitz were more than passingly familiar with the conventions and expectations of troubadour poetry. Unlike the jongleurs, the traveling minstrels of medieval Occitania, the troubadours and trobairitz were both of aristocratic stature, arbiters as well as creators of their culture. They existed in a culture that was emerging from the Dark Ages, with extraordinary wealth and accompanying sophistication, but one that hardly demonstrated open-armed acceptance of women. How then, while the women obviously knew what to write, did it occur to them that they, indeed, could write? While there were other women scattered throughout the Middle Ages whose writings have survived, their works were letters and journals, intended for private use. How then was it possible that a group of women who lived in an area of about a fifty-mile radius within about fifty years of one another could create their own literary tradition? There are several factors that probably had some effect on both situations. In general, in the Middle Ages women were nonpeople; they “were virtual nonentities who counted only insofar as they were good for bringing sons into the world.” (Bogin, Meg. The Women Troubadours, p. 22) Whether peasant or aristocrat, they had virtually no rights and were wards of either their father, their lord, or the church throughout their lifetimes. Marriages were, largely, economic contracts. Romantic love was far from the epicenter of married life. Women were rarely allowed to own property, but one of the differentiating aspects of Occitanian culture from the rest of medieval France was the existence of the Theodosian Code. “The Theodosian Code of 394–95 … was brought to Occitania by the Visigoth invaders of the sixth century. This code gave sons and unmarried daughters an equal share in their father's estate.” (ibid, 23) While from contemporary records it is obvious that this code was not followed on a general basis, it still provided some legal background for a certain amount of female autonomy. By far, however, the single greatest influence on the women of Occitania was the onslaught of the Crusades. The Crusades provided a drain of men to the East, in search of adventure, riches, and religious rewards. “If contemporary records are to be believed, some 60,000 men took part in the first siege of Jerusalem in 1099. The next hundred years would bring four more Crusades: in 1146, 1189, 1204, and 1217.” (ibid, 33) Increasingly, then, women were placed in positions of responsibility and authority out of necessity, for there were gaps to be filled in leadership and governing left by the absent lords of realms. “The most immediate effect of the drastic reduction in the male population was to place women in direct control of fiefs that had been previously run by men” (ibid, 35). With that responsibility came an increased sense of freedom and self-worth, and women in Occitania began to not merely listen to the songs of troubadours and through patronage color the language, concepts, and intent of the poetry, but instead began to write it themselves. This lasted really only as long as the Crusades lasted. Bogin writes, “It is clear … that the women troubadours belonged to a uniquely favored generation. There was no comparable flourishing of women poets in any other areas where troubadour poetry took hold … nor had there been in Occitania before the women troubadours nor was there after them.” (ibid, 36) While there indeed were similarities in the poetry of men and women in medieval Occitania, of more interest are the differences, which were extensive. Male troubadours wrote of idealized love, of fin amor, and of accompanying idealized ladies, but the women were much more down to earth. They spoke with less abstraction, much more directness. They were speaking intimately and passionately to real, individualized men. One of the most obvious aspects in which that directness materializes is the trobairitz's address of sexuality. While with the men it was either idealized love, even a platonic love for the good of the soul that characterizes fin amor, or ribald wordplay utilized in jeuc d'amor, for the women sexuality was a many-faceted, often harsh reality. Duke Guillelm was willing to play word games with sex in his discussions of the jeuc d'amor with thinly veiled references to the size of his dice, two of which “were well-squared, valid / but the third was loaded.” (The Poetry of William VII, Count of Poitiers, IX Duke of Aquitaine. ed and trans, Gerard A. Bond, 55) Conversely, the Comtessa de Dia cries longingly, “If only I could lie beside you for an hour and embrace you lovingly.  Know this, that I'd give almost anything to have you in my husband's place ...”  Later in the same poem, she bitterly says: Now I've seen that I've been betrayed Because I wouldn't sleep with him. Night and day my mind won't rest To think of the mistake I made. (Bogin, 89) Sex is not a game to the Comtessa, nor a place where she quietly submits to her lord's will. Equality, both sexual and social, was treated differently by the men and women in medieval poetry. Many of the male troubadours engaged in fulsome flattery of their imaginary perfect ladies within a very feudal form. They positioned themselves as vassals, to be used and/or given away as their lady pleased. This was a mildly humorous and ironic posture for the male troubadours, for they were not in reality subject to any such response from women. For the trobairitz, however, this hit too close to home, and their attitudes differ as a result. Maria de Ventadour, in her tenson with Gui d'Ussel arguing about equality within a courtly relationship, states: The lover ought to do her bidding As toward a friend and lover equally, And she should honor him the way She would a friend, but never as a lord. (Bogin, 101) A number of the other poets have a yearning for equality, and often merely for a sense of being taken seriously. Ultimately, the trobairitz emerge as individual, independent women who want to be acknowledged as such, involved in real relationships with all of their inherent joys, frustrations, and pitfalls. They write of joy and desire, heartbreak, and betrayal. Many of the trobairitz’s poems tackle the concept of joy, in many of its colorings; a tradition originating with Guillelm de Poitiers in his discussions of joi e joven, joy and youth, but adding their own sense of immediacy and vibrancy. Additionally, some of the poems, most notably one by Azalais de Porcairagues, have a lyrical natural description, wherein nature itself becomes a player in the relationship. She writes, in perhaps one of the most beautiful moments in the poetry of the trobairitz: Now we are come to the cold time When the ice and the snow and the mud And the birds' beaks are mute (For not one inclines to sing;) And the hedge branches are dry - No leaf or bud sprouts up Nor cries the nightingale Whose song awakens me in May.  (Bogin, 95) These wants and joys, angers and hurts, echo in our perceptions of romantic love today. Women, in a moment of opening into a sense of self-authorship, found a way to articulate the realities of their lives. They reworked their cultural narratives, challenging both medieval and modern patriarchal assumptions about the power and relevance of their voices. In a parallel opening, the power of the trobairitz’s insights were rediscovered by predominantly female scholars after the first stirrings of modern feminism, who broke past the dominant scholarly narrative that this poetry had far less worth than what had been written by men. The creative work of the trobairitz serves as an invitation to seek out other sidelined voices to better understand how they carry metaphor and myth forward in ways that strengthen individuals and communities. And as we assess our own access—and barriers—to power in our lives, this poetry and the women who found the courage to write it can serve as inspirations to embolden our own individual voices.

  • The Sacrificial Wheel of Fortune

    In Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce, Campbell embarks on a mythically based, archetypal study of James Joyce, beginning with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is here that Campbell picks up the notion of “the Wings of Art” using Joyce’s imagery from the novel. The myth of Daedalus plays a large role in the novel as can be gleaned by the name of the title character, young Daedalus. But the image of Icarus also comes into play at a crucial moment of the young man’s conversion into the path of the artist. This is the vision of a birdman rising toward the sky, “a hawk-like man flying sunward above the sea,” which stands, in the context of the novel, as a symbol of the most radical form of human individuation. Thus Campbell’s idea of the Wings of Art evokes the “transcendent function” which enables our humanity to soar into the heights of cultural achievement. Thus the transcendent quality of all cultural creativity is evoked by the image of the Wings of Art. Notwithstanding the loss of Icarus, as Campbell writes, “release” is possible for an artist following their bliss. “I don’t know why it is that people talking about the flight of the artist always refer to Icarus and not to Daedalus. Icarus flew too high, the wax on his wings melted, and he fell into the ocean. The sentiment on most people’s part seems to be that artists can’t make it. Well, Daedalus did. Joyce was an optimist with respect to the capacity of a competent artist to achieve release” (Mythic Worlds, Modern Words, p. 9). In truth, it is possible for anyone to free themselves from the spiritual bondage of the status quo. It is always possible to break out of the cave of submission to the ruling ideologies of the time, although the hero may need to pay a hefty price. The sacrifice of Icarus is itself part of the transcendent act. Daedelus grieved bitterly after his dear son plummeted into the depths. As we read in Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of The Metamorphoses of Ovid: And Daedelus cursed his own artistry, Then built a tomb to house his dear son’s body. There, where the boy was buried, now his name remains: that island is Icaria. (Book 8, 256) Now in the case of Joyce, this notion of the sacrificial child is not just a metaphor. Sadly, it was in real life played out by the sacrifice of his own daughter’s mental life. James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia Joyce, in the early 1930s consulted Carl Jung as a last resort in dealing with her psychic ailments. Jung did not hesitate to interpret her mental condition as a kind of symptom, the product of being imbued into the titanic spiritual currents with which her father was contending. The presumption is that her father’s creative genius exposed her to the strongest waves of the archetypal psyche from a very young age. Jung described Lucia being “far more lively” than her father: “She was very attractive, charming—a good mind. And her writing, what she did for me, had in it the same elements as her father’s. She was the same spirit, oh they cared for each other very much. Yet unfortunately, it was too late to help her” (C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, 241). In 1934 Jung diagnosed Lucia with schizophrenia and had her committed to the Burghölzi Psychiatric hospital in Zurich. Jung understood both father and daughter to be “like two people going to the bottom of a river, one falling and the other diving” (Richard Ellmann interview, 1953). Evoking this image of the river recalls the first line of Finnegans Wake: “riverrun, …” So did Lucia fall into the abyss as a kind of Icaria, another child who flew too near Father Sun, too close to the source of all life and being. They were both undone at the peak of their flight, falling into the irresistible abyss of the collective unconscious. Would not James Joyce have reason enough to curse his own artistry as Daedalus did? The wonderful Wings of Art are bought at the highest price imaginable, a level of self-sacrifice not stopping short of the “accidental” sacrifice of others, especially those closest to you. So beware of the envy of the great artists and other personages of history. You never know how steep a price they paid for their “success” or genius. In the same vein, we may look at another great artist, Michelangelo Buonarroti, who doesn’t leave things to chance. He does not blame the Wheel of Fortune nor the Stars, any more than Divine Beauty or Fate for the sacrifice that must be made in the name of art. The price to be paid, however, seems to lie in the embrace of the key opposites of Love and Death. As we can read in Michelangelo’s sonnet “The Artist”: The ill I flee, the good that I believe, In thee, fair lady, lofty and divine, Thus hidden lie; and so that death be mine, Art, of desired success, doth me bereave. In this bereavement of life Michelangelo makes death his own. In the most passionate investments of our lives, we burn our lives away as a candle from both sides. The fall of all Icaria, all “eternal children,” is a question of fate. No doubt they were all served a bad turn on the Wheel of Fortune. Were these pueri aeternitatis? Eternal youths only guilty of being there in the wrong place and at the wrong time? Or is the artist’s ambition a self-fulfilling prophecy of dismemberment and death? Michelangelo doesn’t seem to think so: Love is not guilty, then, nor thy fair face, Nor fortune, cruelty, nor great disdain, Of my disgrace, nor chance nor destiny, If in thy heart both death and love find place At the same time, and if my humble brain, Burning, can nothing draw but death from thee. Michelangelo dispenses here with the panoply of excuse-making that makes mortals want a scapegoat for their sorrows and disappointments. This level of ethical responsibility does not come about by chance. Despite Fortuna’s supreme status as Imperatrix Mundi, “Empress of the World,” in every act of transcendence the hand of human freedom interweaves the subjective thread of our lives into the fixed strings of the warp of Necessity. Using the needle of Chance, the soul traces its path through the  given conditions of objective existence. The interblending of both love and death is, therefore, nobody’s fault. It’s not even a matter we need to lament, as the lamentations of Michelangelo very nicely presage a key psychoanalytic insight into the nature of psychic energy: the intrinsic unity of Eros and Death-Drive are the fundamental poles of its dynamic and structures.

  • The Wheel of Fortune: A Reminder of Life’s Fixed and Mutable Elements

    The Wheel of Fortune tarot card serves as a poignant pointer to the sobering fact that we do not, and cannot, control the deep substrate behind our lived existence, even though we do instinctively and intuitively experience the presence of this substrate. This reality can, and does, manifest itself pictorially within dreams that bear archetypal motifs and patterns. We commonly have very little capacity to modify this deep substrate realm, and as such, it exists within us as an immutable fact. Within the realm of everyday life we can, and do, have difficulties governing our quotidian feelings and thoughts. Often only by degrees can we transmute or steer the everyday highs and lows, the fortunes and setbacks that come our way due to the mandates of chance or personal and collective karma. An unexpected gift can easily morph into an unexpected disappointment. Much in life is unpredictable, transient, and indeed ephemeral, but through attention, application, practice, and courage, we can build resilience and acquire a raft of skills to advance our lives constructively. The Wheel of Fortune sometimes does bring misfortune and here the Fates present us with opportunities to strengthen and recast ourselves—because that’s their central mission. It’s why this particular tarot card can serve to remind us, although tacitly, that there need be no absolute failure of despair. When our paths are the most gritty and challenging, it’s here where the greatest potential for our soul’s refinement and renewal exists. In this moment the psyche inhabits a zone of freedom, if it can find the still center. Joseph Campbell explained it to Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth this way: “In the Middle Ages, a favorite image that occurs in many, many contexts is the wheel of fortune. There’s the hub of the wheel, and there is the revolving rim of the wheel. For example, if you are attached to the rim of the wheel of fortune, you will be either above going down or at the bottom coming up. But if you are at the hub, you are in the same place all the time” (119). Our psyche-soul is immensely large and richly multidimensional and is an undiscovered territory for our everyday consciousness and its interests. And precisely because so much of it is undiscovered, unrealised, and hence unexplored, when we do begin to enter the psyche’s depths we may encounter realms that are frightfully unfamiliar and seemingly chaotic. But on the positive side, these new realms of unknowing and attendant confusion are in fact a subterranean storeroom, the storeroom of the unconscious. Within this vast storeroom are suppressed energies, or actual soul identities, which have long been alienated. These are awaiting the sight of our compassionate recognition, yearning for our awareness and caring attention. If shunned, neglected, or resisted, the pent-up energies within this subterranean storeroom will impel their presence and demand our attention. Without acknowledging them, they’ll place hindering obstacles along our path. In doing so, they awaken us to a more comprehensive understanding of ourselves, while simultaneously hoping for our aid to release them from the netherworld’s bondage. In this sense, the storeroom is also a treasure room too. Among the treasures are gifts that, when opened, prompt us toward a more rounded self-awareness. And these gifts will help us lean into our nascent and actualized divinity, which wishes to be further born and expressed within us. As particular fairy tales often remind us, we alchemically spin the raw substances of our soul’s underworld into threads of fine gold. This gold is woven into the fabric of our soul’s upperworld when we enlist the darkness to be in service to the sacred Self, guiding our unconscious and instinctive selves toward an ever more refined expression. Along this line of thought, the anonymous author in Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism states that “the practical task which follows from this is that of inner alchemy: the transmutation of fallen instincts into their non-fallen prototypes” (281). However, these are no mere words. There is a Hermetic science within this metamorphic process. The Wheel of Fortune (and Misfortune) rotates around and within our personal lives, ever turning to prompt the movement of individual and collective destinies. We may find ourselves plunged into currents of flux and swirl as we encounter life’s gifts, opportunities, and challenges, but as the card indicates, the Wheel of Fortune has a relative constant (other than the hub, which Campbell mentions). That constant is reflected in the twelve zodiacal signs. The zodiacal realm is an abode of permanence and a zone of reference. In a condensed way, the zodiac is represented by the four fixed signs seen pictorially here by the four creatures, one on each corner of the card. Hence, the reality in which we are embedded and that which embraces us is necessarily composed of contrary dispositions: the steadfast and the mutable, the fixed and the shifting. When the significance of these contrary states is discerned, we can perceive how each is the mentor for the other. In summary, the four creatures can be pictured as follows: Eagle (cognition), Lion (feelings), Bull (digestion and volition), and Man (the original protoarchetypal man as integrator). This integration process is assisted by the Sphinx, which works toward wholeness in the macroexpression (cosmos) and wholeness in its microexpression (the human being). And so it is with our own lives too. Soul-wise we draw on each of these four creatures as the four integral elements of the psyche. Also necessary within this Hermetic science is the powerful exchange between the creatures that sit in direct polarity to each other, i.e. Man and Lion, Bull and Eagle. Within this exchange there exists an unceasing consummation of opposites, a perpetual process-event that provides the vigorous dynamic for the psyche as a living organism. There’s so much to contemplate here—it’s a never-ending project, of course—but it’s hoped that our meditations upon the Wheel of Fortune card (and the Tarot overall) will further inform our experience of life’s both fixed and mutable elements.

  • How to Choose Directions in Life Wisely

    The Chariot card is traditionally designed with the image of a strong male figure in a car conducted by two sphinx-like beasts; the dark one at the left side and a white one at the right side. The armored charioteer carries a scepter, suggesting his royal nature or, perhaps, that he is a servant of royalty. In 1976, the first edition of A Feminist Tarot  was published. Authored by Susan Rennie and Sally Miller Gearhart, it began a welcome explosion of women’s tarot decks in the 1980s and 1990s. As the pioneer, A Feminist Tarot refers to the images of the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck, presenting them from the perspective of the emerging cultural feminist theory. Whatever the perspective, though, what this card has in common with other decks is that the central figure is trying to unite distinct animals in dark and white colors. In “The Magic Flight,” chapter six of The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, Campbell was asked about the more interesting questions that he had heard after his lectures. And his answer was: “The most interesting question I ever got was when I was lecturing here at Esalen in the [Abraham] Maslow Room in 1967. Somebody asked, ‘What about the symbolism of the Waite deck of tarot cards?’” (172). Only people with good ego strength can afford to say I don't know, let me find out and come back the next morning as Campbell did, with the happy smile of having been introduced to something new out of the blue. According to Campbell, he was excited to have had the luck to recognize a couple of sequences in the tarot deck. The first one, he says, is that “there is one for the Four Ages of Man: Youth, Maturity, Age, and what Dante calls Senility. He also calls it decrepitude.” Campbell continues: “Then above that I saw another sequence where there was a woman pouring water or something from a blue vessel into a red one and this was called Temperance.” We may guess that Campbell saw card number seven, the Chariot, contained in the first sequence he referred to as the Four Ages of Man, and identified the theme of the passage from youth to maturity, what the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung called metanoia. Metanoia, very simply, is a shift in the personality, one that would act to balance the dominance of the Persona—the social mask that keep us functional in the world—toward the integration of other autonomous aspects of us, like the shadow, which contains the parts of ourselves we do not develop or accept. No wonder the animals pulling the chariot are meant to, in general, suggest the opposing forces that have been reconciled in the previous card (the Lovers). But, still, a strong yet flexible ego is needed to reconcile the new internal conflicts. And make no mistake, they will be there. These conflicts may present themselves in the form of external enemies, situations, or obstacles in one’s life. However, if we follow the psychological approach to these symbols, they can tell us what is happening inside our own psyche. As Jungian psychoanalyst Sallie Nichols points out in Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey, Jung noted that the psyche is a self-regulatory system. Although the beasts might not be heading together toward a direction, they may yet balance the ride and prevent the chariot from ending up in the moat. If we look again to the charioteer, he is privileging neither the left nor the right beast but, in some way, allowing the synergy of these opposing forces to foster a third thing that might show up as a solution (Jung called this the Transcendent Function). The result of the struggle suggested by the card is a transformative change in one’s thinking, feeling, behaving, or relating levels—perhaps even all of them altogether. It is easier to talk about transformations than actually go through them. If you pay attention to the charioteer’s shoulders, you may see the crescent moons. This suggests that we are dealing with unconscious emotional aspects underneath the habit patterns, that this is not an easy nor a crystal-clear process when we are wrestling with what life wants from us in order to facilitate the necessary personal growth. As Campbell said, the next sequence is the Devil, then a thunderbolt hitting a tower: “the Tower of Destruction, which is the traditional sign for purgatory, you know, the tower of evil being smashed by the thunderbolt of God’s destruction of all of your tight ego-system relationships” (172). Benedict XVI may have declared the extinction of the purgatory as a material location in 2011. Whether or not Purgatory has ceased to be important in the popular or symbolic imagination is another matter. In view of this, the Pope said it might be “an interior fire, which purifies the soul of sin.” If we consider sin symbolically as what prevents us from fully being ourselves, from expressing our potential for wholeness (the archetype of the Self), then the suffering we experience in the psychological sphere does indeed make better sense. Campbell was fascinated by the tarot experience, and for him “what it represented was a program for life that derived from European medieval consciousness” (175). And that, in the end, has to do with the mystical path disguised in a pack of cards traditionally used in fortune-telling.

  • The Chariot: A Vehicle for (and a Symbol of) the Mature and Integrated Psyche

    Like all the tarot cards, the Chariot contains a complexity of sub-images and details. We can safely assume that each sub-image is not merely a random or decorative item and that there’s a purposeful and organic relationship between them all. We start, of course, with the main motif: a figure riding in a chariot. His countenance bears authority and clear intent. His gaze is firm. Clearly he is in control. But in control of what? In control of life, it seems. More immediately, he’s in control of the two sphinxes that pull the chariot. On closer examination we realize the sphinxes have inverted black-and-white coloring. And each sphinx would go its own way if it weren’t for the governing will of the charioteer. He carries the wand of authority with such resolute intent that the chariot materializes as a virtual extension of himself as the charioteer. Yet it would seem from the card’s pictorial and structural elements that the charioteer does not bring forth his unquestioned authority out of himself alone. It seems that he has a mandate from the overarching Heavens, the realm of ultimate authority and command. The picture suggests that the charioteer fulfills his mission by uniting the archetypal feminine and masculine (as contrapositions) within himself. The marriage of two contrary elements within the psyche is indicated by the chariot’s crest, which features the lingam and yoni. A thorough study of the tarot requires us to hold a spherical and holographic consciousness, as well as a binary one. So when contemplating this card—beyond the charioteer being driven to merge the dualities within himself and balance the archetypal polarities (the yin and yang of the sphinxes) or the secondary antipodal notions of heaven and earth—there’s still myriad other intersecting influences within the psyche to harmonize, an extensive array of pluralisms, not only singular dualities. Unfortunately, there just isn’t the space in this MythBlast to delve deeper into all the other diverse elements requiring integration, but in Letter VII of Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, the anonymous author does hint at some of the more complex, contrary elements that are simultaneously at play. The integrated man, master of himself, conqueror in all trials—who is he? It is he who holds in check the four temptations—i.e. the three temptations in the wilderness described in the Gospels as well as the temptation which synthesizes them: the temptation of pride, the center of the triangle of temptations—and who is, therefore, master of the four elements which compose the vehicle of his being: fire, air, water and earth. Master of the four elements – that is to say: creative being in clear, fluid and precise thought (creativity, clarity, fluidity and precision being the manifestations of the four elements in the domain of thought). It means to say, moreover, that he has a warm, large, tender and faithful heart (warmth, magnanimity, sensitivityand faithfulness being the manifestations of the four elements in the domain of feeling). There is, lastly, to add that he has ardor (‘man of desire’), fullness, flexibility and stability in his will (where the four elements manifest themselves as intensity, scope, adaptability and firmness). To summarize, one can say that a master of the four elements is a man of initiative, who is serene, mobile and firm. Here presents the four natural virtues of Catholic theology: prudence, strength, temperance and justice; or rather Plato’s four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, temperance and justice; or yet again the four qualities of Sankaracharya: viveka(discernment), vairagya (serenity), the ‘six jewels’ of just conduct, and the desire for deliverance. Whatever the formulation may be of the four virtues in question, it is always a matter of the four elements or projections of the sacred name יהוה‎—the Tetragrammaton—in human nature (183). The triumphant charioteer is victorious in bringing these many and variegated life modalities and principles into a coherent working relationship. The union, though, is not one where the contrary elements meld into one another blithely. The elements perpetually remain as a balance of otherwise converse intentions requiring constant vigilance, reanimation and restoration on a moment-to-moment basis. This harmonized symphony can only be acquired through the continuous renewal process occurring within the charioteer’s maturing psyche. This process of ongoing equilibrium is required or else the charioteer and his chariot, and hence his life purpose, will be rudely torn apart. An example of a mythic character with an immature and unintegrated psyche is Phaeton, as shown by his handling of the sun chariot. Joseph Campbell references this myth in The Hero with a Thousand Faces: The mystagogue is to entrust the symbols of office only to a son who has been effectually purged of all inappropriate infantile cathexes—for whom the just, impersonal exercise of the powers will not be rendered impossible by unconscious motives of self-aggrandizement, personal preference, or resentment. Ideally, the invested one has been divested of his mere humanity and is representative of an impersonal cosmic force. He is the twice-born: he has become himself the father. And he is competent consequently now to enact himself the role of the initiator, the guide, the sun door, through whom one may pass from infantile illusions of good and evil to an experience of the majesty of cosmic law, purged of hope and fear, and at peace in understanding the revelation of being (115). The charioteer in the tarot card, unlike Phaethon, masters the situation because he has mastered himself. This card is therefore both an archetypal representation of, and instruction for, our common shared project: healing the psyche by integrating its numerous and disparate parts. Without constant vigilance and self-discipline, the psyche is liable to lapse into discord with the consequent dispersion of its divergent energies. In this card the charioteer is austere in his willful commitment to purpose. And so in our own lives, we, too, are to exert this same discipline and focus, but we must also temper this disposition through the practice of bestowing kindness and compassion to ourselves and others. These are the attributes that empower a supreme sovereign capacity as denoted by the star crown that the charioteer wears. Finally, our anonymous author states, “For mastership is not the state of being moved, but rather that of being able to set in motion.” It’s only a mature and integrated psyche that can set the forces of life in motion, because it’s recognized itself as the vehicle (the Chariot) of the Divine.

  • Dynamics of the Diabolic

    Our MythBlast essay series continues to explore the archetypal imagery of the tarot, focusing this month on Card XV in the major arcana: the Devil. For almost two thousand years those who practice the occult arts have been portrayed as dabbling in the demonic. We all know the story from countless variations in book and film: even those who display innocent curiosity are depicted as opening themselves to satanic influences, which never end well. From Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors in 1965 to television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, drawing the Devil card sets a sinister tone. And small wonder: in Christian dogma the devil is considered summum malam, the highest or supreme evil. But is this what the Devil signifies in tarot––portents of evil? Or is there more nuance to this mythic figure? How the devil did the devil become the Devil? Surprisingly, there is no identification in Hebrew scriptures of the devil with the talking serpent tempting Eve in the Garden. Similarly, the only mention of “Lucifer” (“shining one” or “light bearer”) in the Jewish canon appears to be an allegorical reference to the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4–23), though this passage is later taken by Christians (but not Jews) as a veiled account of the devil’s origin. Nor is “Satan” the devil’s name. The Hebrew word śāṭān means “accuser” or “adversary,” and is so translated to describe a number of figures—from King David (in I Samuel 29:4, where the Philistines fear he will become their adversary) to an “angel of the Lord” who blocks the sorcerer Balaam’s way (Numbers 22:22). However, when used with the definite article (ha-śāṭān: “the Satan”), which occurs only in the Old Testament books of Job and Zechariah, it’s a title applied to a member of God’s heavenly court who serves a prosecutorial role. At this stage of his evolution, Satan appears to be a spirit being who reports directly to God in heaven, does God’s bidding, and even indulges in a gentleman’s wager of sorts with the deity; this figure is no fallen angel residing in hell, nor is he at war with God––and he is definitely not the source of evil. That role is reserved for the God of Israel, who declares, in Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (KJV). And He does. Whenever Pharaoh is on the point of agreeing to the Lord’s demand to allow the Israelite slaves to leave, it is God, not the devil, who hardens Pharaoh’s heart, compounding the suffering of Hebrews and Egyptians alike (Exodus 7:13; 9:12; 10:20; 10:27; 14:4). It is God, not the devil, who sends an evil spirit to torment King Saul (I Samuel 16:14). And when Israel’s King Ahab seeks to know the will of God, Ahab is killed in battle because “the Lord hath put a lying spirit” in the mouths of the prophets (I Kings 22: 5–23). The figure of Satan as the epitome of evil, in perpetual conflict with a God who is only righteous and pure and good, doesn’t emerge until the period of the Babylonian captivity. After sacking Jerusalem, in 597 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II forcibly deports the bulk of the Jewish religious leadership and nobility to Babylon, where they and their descendants remain in exile for the next sixty years. Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid (aka Persian) Empire, eventually defeats the Babylonians and allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Thanks to cross-fertilization with Zoroastrianism, the dominant religion in the Persian empire, the exiles bring with them new ideas: Now there were two extremely important innovations that transformed the mythologies of the Levant and that then very soon affected Europe. One came along with the rise of Zoroastrianism, where the principles of light and darkness are separated from each other absolutely and the idea is developed of two contending creative deities . . . absolute good and absolute evil. There is in the earlier traditions no such dualistic separation of powers, and we in our own thinking have inherited something of this dualism of Good and Evil, God and Devil, from the Persians. (The Mythic Dimension, 256-257) With this movement, the figure of Satan morphs into the devil we know today––but in the Christian era the conceptualization of the deity also undergoes a transformation. In most other belief systems, the adversary/trickster figure is not wholly evil––even Loki has his moments––but in Christianity, as in Zoroastrianism, God is conceived of as the ultimate source of all that is Good, and only Good . . . and pure good, pure light, casts a dark and monstrous shadow. If God is only Good, then his shadow, everything that God isn't, must be utter Evil. You cannot have light without the shadow; the shadow is the reflex of the figure of light.(Thou Art That, 75) According to Jungian psychology, the shadow is frequently related to one’s personal unconscious, which is called the unconscious not because it is unconscious and without purpose but because the waking ego (“me,” “I”, how I perceive myself) is unconscious of these deeper parts of the psyche: The shadow is, so to say, the blind spot in your nature. It’s that which you won’t look at about yourself . . . The shadow is that which you might have been had you been born on the other side of the tracks: the other person, the other you. It is made up of the desires and ideas within you that you are repressing—all of the introjected id. The shadow is the landfill of the self. Yet it is also a sort of vault: it holds great, unrealized potentialities within you. The nature of your shadow is a function of the nature of your ego. It is the backside of your light side. (Pathways to Bliss, 73) Shadow contents, those unknown or repressed parts of one’s being, are experienced as threatening to waking ego. Rather than accept these shadow traits as part of oneself, we tend to project shadow contents outside ourselves, onto those who have hooks in their personality, on which those projections might catch and snag, thus allowing us to evade self-loathing and self-knowledge, by directing fear and hatred outward, onto some “Other.” Is it coincidence that God instructs Moses, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14)? Certainly, “I AM THAT I AM”––the name of the deity in the Judeo-Christian tradition––has been interpreted as a statement having profound theological implications; at the same time, at least on the surface, it sure sounds like a declaration of ego. And if that divine ego identifies itself only with all things good, then all things evil fall into shadow, which is projected outward onto the gods of others, who are then considered to be devils. In this mythological context the idea of the occult, as black magic, becomes associated with all of the religious arts of the traditional pagan world, and the very symbols of such gods as Śiva and Poseidon, for example, become symbolic of the devil. The trident of Śiva and Poseidon and the pitchfork of our devil are the same. Moreover, there now begins to become associated with the occult a new tone, one of fearful danger, diabolical possession, and so forth, and what formerly was daemonic possession—possession by a god such as Dionysus—becomes evil: a new mythology of warlocks and witches, pacts with the devil, and so forth, comes into being. But there is an earlier mythological law that tells that when a deity is suppressed and misinterpreted in this way, not recognized as a deity, he indeed may become a devil. When the natural impulses of one’s life are repressed, they become increasingly threatening, violent, terrible, and there is a furious fever of possession that then may overtake people; and many of the horrors of our European Christian history may be interpreted as the results of this natural law.” (The Mythic Dimension, 258) Thoth Deck Copyright © 1978 by U.S. Games Systems and Samuel[/caption] And so, we come full circle, back to “the idea of the occult,” specifically, the Devil in the major arcana. This card signifies evil primarily to those unfamiliar with tarot. But there is another way to interpret this image: What is the obstruction in your life, and how do you transform it into the radiance? Ask yourself, “What is the main obstruction to my path?” . . . A demon or devil is a power in you to which you have not given expression, an unrecognized or suppressed god. (A Joseph Campbell Companion, 156) That’s worth repeating: a “devil is a power in you to which you have not given expression.” By becoming aware of and giving expression to what has been unconscious, we disempower the shadow’s ability to disrupt our lives. [T]he attitude that Joyce has in his work is not that of withdrawing but affirming; yet in the affirmation, having lined up on one side, you are not to identify yourself with God and the other side with the Devil; the two represent a polarity. Or if you do identify yourself with God and the other with the Devil, then you must realize that there is a higher principle, higher than the duality of God and Devil of which they themselves are the polarized aspects. (Mythic Worlds, Modern Words, 271) When I draw the Devil in a tarot spread, I do not take the card as evil. Rather, for me, it’s a reminder to seek out what I have ignored, repressed, or overlooked in my life––which takes honest and often challenging self-reflection––and then embrace it. The path to wholeness begins with owning one’s own shadow. As Joseph Campbell often noted, citing Nietzsche, “Be careful lest in casting out your Devil you cast out the best that is in you” (Asian Journals, p. 221). Maybe it’s time we give the devil his due . . .

  • Bedeviled by Desire: Lucifer in Thrall and in Therapy

    Some tarot cards conjure dread in folks who have just a passing understanding of them. Either the image itself or the card’s name can be enough to evoke negative associations. In the major arcana, for example, the Tower and Death cards immediately rouse fatal visions of tragedy. However, neither of these images carries the supernatural or occult connotations of the Devil card. As the embodiment of evil, the Devil lives in the Western consciousness as something far worse than loss or dying—he possesses mysterious powers to actively wreak suffering and pain on humanity, even beyond death. But just as the Tower and Death cards have more subtle and nuanced interpretations than their fearful appearances might suggest, the Devil also has a wealth to reveal when grasped at deeper, more archetypal levels. I’d like to use a pop-culture reference in my exploration of this topic. For the Devil card, I instantly think of the Fox/Netflix series Lucifer, taken from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic book. In the show, Lucifer (played by Tom Ellis) leaves Hell and becomes a nightclub owner in Los Angeles. The Devil here appears as a handsome, witty, and charming man, not a being bent on humanity’s destruction. However, he cannot escape the one function he performed in Hell: punishing wrongdoers. This leads him to a position as a consultant with the LAPD, in which he can track down criminals and help mete out justice. One of Lucifer’s superpowers is his ability to ask of anyone what they truly desire, and the fact that he always gets a truthful response proves to be useful in detective work and suspect interrogation. Moreover, Lucifer’s own (mostly hedonistic) desires drive his earthly lifestyle, and thus one of the primary themes of the show is desire and its consequences. The standard Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot presentation of the Devil card carries a strong resemblance to the Lovers: the supernatural figure in the center, flanked by Adam and Eve. But the humans bear the Devil’s horns on their heads and, more tellingly, are bound by chains to the Devil’s perch. Thus, the image insists that bondage and becoming devilish is a consequence of the Devil’s presence. And using the themes suggested by Lucifer, desire itself is the pathway into this slavery. To want something strongly is to become attached to it, and the more intense the desire, the more unbreakable the attachment. In Tibetan Buddhism, the term dö chag means “sticky desire,” the yearning to grasp something or someone that grabs you back when you experience it. Whether we label it adhesion or enslavement, craving fetters us to an external object. Joseph Campbell viewed desire in its proper place as the flip side of fear—what we are most afraid of is often the opposite of “what we truly desire.” And he related desire and fear back to the Garden of Eden and the Fall: “The fear is that of death and the desire is for more of this world,” he asserts in Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor (p. 51), “fear and desire are what keep you out of the Garden.” The Devil, then, is what pulls you in the direction of either debilitating fear or excessive desire, often linked to a common root. Between those two sides lies “the Garden” or, as Campbell references in his conversation with Bill Moyers in the first episode of The Power of Myth, nirvana: “the condition that comes when you are not compelled by desire or fear, or by social commitments, when you hold your center and act out of there.” The ”center” that Campbell refers to resides purely in neither the ego nor in the persona. It is the integrated aspect of the psyche, one that moves beyond the strong pull toward or avoidance of the pairs of opposites in life. The most powerful creator of the Devil, or the demonic, is the psyche’s natural tendency to repress the very powers it contains, the gods of our polytheistic soul. “My definition of a devil,” Campbell posits, “is a god who has not been recognized … a power in you to which you have not given expression, and you push it back” (An Open Life, 28). We often do not even recognize our unconscious gods/devils that drive us within the desire/fear dichotomy. Much of the mystery and supernatural qualities we ascribe to the concretized images of both the divine and the demonic are due to the power we ourselves give them through extremes of attachment or avoidance. One of the many aspects that I appreciate about Lucifer is that the main character goes to therapy. While in daily life he pursues what he himself desires (and avoids what he fears), therapy impels him into self-reflexive spaces where these aspects receive introspection and contemplation. As he experiences the pains of being human for the first time, his acceptance of his unexamined drives leads him toward integration. As Campbell notes, “The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply” (The Power of Myth, p. 202). Lucifer’s painful journey into himself—his self-swallowing, if you will—provides him understanding and power, and we viewers can come along for the journey. Lucifer may have left Hell to be in Los Angeles, but he continues grappling with his fears and desires from an egoic standpoint, which effectively serves to bring Hell with him. For Campbell, “Hell, properly, is the condition of people who are so bound to their ego lives and selfish values that they cannot open out to a transpersonal grace” (Thou Art That, p. 100). Can the Devil, or we who are chained and wear the Devil’s horns, break free of the shackles and move into grace? For the answer found in the series, I suggest watching it on Netflix. For your own answer, perhaps the same kind of reflections on life’s pain, accompanied by a coach, therapist, or conscious friend, can begin the process of emancipation from the chains of desire.

  • Devil in the Deck: Reflections on Tarot Card XV

    The cards haven’t changed as much as we have. Back in the day, the owners of the tarot decks tended to be royalty and nobility; indeed, the first tangible evidence of their use dates from 1392 when a French painter presented his version of the tarot deck to his employer, King Charles VI. Users tended to be Catholic—almost everyone in fourteenth-century Europe was Catholic—despite the risk of enraging the local church. As Joseph Campbell writes, “It is from the beginning of that century, 1330, 1340, or so, that we begin to hear complaints from clergy about members of their flocks making use of playing cards” (Tarot Revelations, p. 9). Why did the Church care? Perhaps because the deck was stacked against them: people were turning to the tarot for guidance, and guidance was the wheelhouse of Rome. I would argue that this intimate, self-guided practice of augury was a foreshock (as we Angelenos might call it) of the Protestant Reformation wherein the projection of spiritual autonomy was withdrawn from its Vatican headquarters and placed squarely in the homes of Martin Luther’s faithful. While the increasingly curious, Renaissance-influenced, nonreligious humanists dealt cards, the newly empowered Christians thumbed gilt-edged Bibles. There must have been a merchandising genius behind the evolution of the Marseille deck, because there was a shift in imagery commensurate with the evolving Weltanschauung of Luther’s German experiment: [W]hen we turn to any one of our own decks of playing cards, the symbolism that we open to is of the Protestant seventeenth century. The Swords have become Spades … The Cups, which formerly represented the chalice of the Catholic mass, have become Hearts; for in Protestant thinking it was not in the rituals and dogmas of the Roman clergy but in one’s own heart, one’s conscience that spiritual guidance was to be found (Tarot Revelations, 11). There is something very Protestant about arrogating to oneself the facile implements of self-discovery. Who needs a papist confessor? The Devil card, this month’s prompt for our collective reflections here at the Joseph Campbell Foundation, remained a stable icon of evil from an age where evil was projected outward rather than discovered within. That’s who we were back then. We didn’t have Jungian shadows; we had the devil. Or, as Campbell himself put it, “Gods suppressed become devils, and often it is these devils whom we first encounter when we turn inward” (Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor, p. 63) The devil didn’t change. We did. I can say this because I had pizza last night at a restaurant on Ventura Boulevard called Lucifer’s. Really? Is the Tempter so drained of efficacy that we can name our pizza joints after him? (They advertise four different levels of “heat” in their spicy sauce.) I never had a personal devil in my universe, although I was raised by Catholics. Both sides of the family were Catholic. Everyone I called family had been baptized, catechized, and, to some extent, hypnotized by the compelling majesty of what Dad liked to call the “one true faith.” He always chuckled when he said it. He never once mentioned the devil except when he was talking about Dante (after whom he named his fourth child). The devil’s card remains fixed in its meaning and intent by that fourteenth-century Italian who basically gave us hell as we know it. Leave it to my people to imagine a place of truly poetic forms of eternal retribution. Imagine the imagination which imagines infinite punishment for finite sins. I come from a grudge-holding culture, and Alighieri is the finest fruit on that bitter tree. My mom never mentioned the devil. Somewhere she had been inoculated against certain symbols from the past, believing that flirtations with the occult were harmless and kept children amused. Like the time she bought a Ouija board for use as a game at my seventh birthday party. The neighbor’s children innocently reported the incident to their parents, and all hell broke loose. As it turns out, my neighbors back in Broomhall, Pennsylvania, really did believe in the devil. And I know this because I’ve been calling them and possibly freaking them out with questions about how they were taught to think about Satan and whether they still believed in those things. Though I haven’t spoken to Tom Shales in over sixty years, I contacted him to ask him if his parents believed in a personal devil. He lived next door. “My parents told me that the devil hated people,” Tom texted, “and wanted to drag them to hell with sins … In my late teens, I talked to Mom about the devil once. She talked with me briefly, but it was clear to me that she was frightened by the subject. That chat took place after my brother dabbled with a Ouija board.” Oops. My informal poll of startled neighbors from sixty years ago has yielded the same results with few exceptions. I grew up surrounded by Satan. The Prince of Darkness has but a slender hold on my psyche and I credit this to my occasionally enlightened parents, who nudged me to look inward, not outward, for evidence of evil. Even Goethe’s Mephistopheles knows better than to cling to past personifications as he objects to a witch’s use of his old name in Faust, Part One: THE WITCH: I’m crazy with excitement, now I see our young Lord Satan’s back again! MEPHISTOPHELES: Woman, don’t use that name to me! THE WITCH: Why, sir, what harm’s it ever done? MEPHISTOPHELES: The name has been a myth too long. Not that man’s any better off—the Evil One they’re rid of. Evil’s still going strong. The “ancient foe” of Luther’s Ein Feste Burg (Google translates this as “a solid castle.” You may know it as A Mighty Fortress.) has been reduced in rank, his pungent, sulfuric scent perfumed by platitudes about moral relativism. As one online influencer put it in his review of the Grateful Dead’s Friend of the Devil, “Rock fans know that our love of the Devil isn’t about devotion to darkness and misery … If holiness involves being a judgmental Puritan, then Satan is just the ultimate bar buddy, the kind of sweaty, good-natured dude who just wants to skull a cold beer.” As I say, the cards haven’t changed as much as we have.

  • The Devil: Combating Our Adversaries by Rendering Them Visible

    According to the anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, the fifteenth Arcanum of the Tarot introduces us to the “intoxication of counter-inspiration” (401). Throughout this year’s MythBlast series focusing on the Tarot, the authors have been researching and writing about the metaphors and symbols contained within the Major Arcana. What, then, is the devil card a metaphor or symbol of? It may assist our contemplations to place ourselves at the intersection of two fields of discourse. One being the Jungian Shadow and the other the metaphysical Doppelgänger (negative human double). The Shadow is generally thought to be an animated, personified, interior aspect of our psyche. It’s an aspect that is primitive, instinctive, and often reactionary. For most of the time, we’re only partly conscious of it, if indeed we recognize it as a reality at all. The anonymous author here brings our attention to its presence: “Good does not combat evil in the sense of destructive action. It ‘combats’ it by the sole fact of its presence. Just as darkness gives way to the presence of light, so does evil give way before the presence of good.Modern depth psychology has discovered and put into practice the therapeutic principle of bringing unconscious complexes to the light of consciousness. Because – so it affirms – the light of consciousness renders the obsessional complex not only visible but also impotent” (421). Once our awareness of its presence has been evoked, we can then employ the light of consciousness to transmute the destructive effects of darkness and evil. It’s helpful here to remember and appreciate that the Shadow can also contain parts of our psyche that the conscious self has not yet apprehended or heeded. It can also contain what Carl Jung termed the “Golden Shadow,” our submerged creative potential. And let’s not forget that the Shadow often contains collective and societal aspects too. So then, in one sense, we can say that the Shadow is the antithesis to the goals of a higher and more refined personal or collective Identity. It’s the counter-inspiration. Given this, the Shadow (golden or otherwise) is the ‘other side’ of us – invisible – yet bonded to our psyche. Yet it’s our working with individual and collective Shadow material that enables the light to both find its focus and visibly manifest the invisible aspects within the psyche. The Meditations on the Tarot author continues on this theme: Light drives out darkness. This simple truth is the practical key to the problem of how to combat demons. A demon perceived, i.e. on whom the light of consciousness is thrown, is already a demon rendered impotent. This is why the desert fathers and other solitary saints had so much experience with demons. They cast their light on them. And they did so as representatives of human consciousness in general, for whoever withdraws from the world becomes representative of the world; he becomes a ‘son of man’. And being a ‘son of man’ the solitary saint attracted the demons haunting the subconscious of mankind, making them appear, i.e. bringing them to the light of consciousness and thus rendering them impotent (421). Once the light has strengthened and ripened as a discerning faculty within us, it then has the potential to neutralize destructive elements within the psyche. Yet as myth-loving people, which us MythBlast readers surely are, we know that we must simultaneously hold paradoxical teachings like casting a light on the adversary to make it impotent, and using the light to render visible the totality of who we really are. It behooves us to hold the contradiction of employing the light to drive the demons out, while yet knowing that it’s this very light, which brings visibility and awareness of our wholeness. Now let’s turn our attention to the already-mentioned Doppelgänger, a somewhat different concept. Traditionally, this has been thought of (or experienced) as an actual metaphysical identity, not only as an aspect of the psyche. This entity also shows itself to be cold, calculating and in opposition to our personal and collective Zeitgeist. In literature, the adversary naturally moves between the Shadow and Doppelgänger identities, once again inviting us readers to embrace the importance and power of contradictory thinking. The Doppelgänger is variously personified across different legends and narratives, and the following are some fictional accounts of the Doppelgänger. In Goethe’s Faust, there is the cleverness of Mephistopheles, with whom Faust makes a pact, which is really his own distorted reflection, or double. Then there is the criminal, if not evil, Mr. Hyde, in the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As well as Klingsor (the Duke of Terra de Labur) in the Grail legend. Klingsor is an enemy of the Grail motive and impulse and fortifies himself in the Château Merveil, which is really an occult, oppressive energy field. Here, the sorcerer Klingsor draws nourishment from impurities within the human heart. What’s interesting in all these narratives is that the Doppelgänger is mostly an adversary, and yet this adversary is a part of us too. And a necessary part at that. It’s the Doppelgänger that can propel us forward. It does this by making us confront and address those aspects of our psyche that require refinement and enhancement, and so in this respect, the Doppelgänger has a ‘redemptive’ role. In certain settings, that’s its precise mandate. So then, in a rather circuitous way, it can be an incredibly valuable helpmate on our path of soul development. “Here it is not a question of the annihilation of the demon, but rather of changing its field of activity and the place – or, rather, mode – of its existence,” the anonymous author states (p. 422). With this ‘change of mode,’ we mature by changing our relationship to the external and internal conflicts and contradictions that we all face. We recognize that without the necessary visibility of both the Shadow and Doppelgänger presences, over time, a matter-blinded consciousness would develop within much of the human population ... a consciousness that is blind to perceiving higher soul realities and has no working faculties for intuitive perceptions. Wakefulness therefore comes from rendering visible the very things that put us to sleep. By shining light on both the Shadow and Doppelgänger, we can embrace their revelations and heed Joseph Campbell’s advice: “Well, one of the problems about being psychoanalyzed is, as Nietzsche said, ‘Be careful lest in casting out your devils that you cast out the best thing that’s in you’” (Asian Journals, p. 221). Working thoroughly and diligently with this Tarot card, I trust that the devil will bring out the best in you.

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