Tuesday, October 2, 2012

An article of faith

"Doubt is a pain too lonely
to know faith is his brother."
Khalil Gibran
The Fifth Key of the Tarot, known variously as the Pope or, more commonly, the Hierophant (the word literally means 'teacher of holy things'), is the sixth card along the journey of the Fool. The Law of Fives, that false teacher, suggests it should be significant (not only is it the fifth key, but the prime factors of six sum to... five).
We've intimated previously that knowledge is bound by unsurmountable limitations, and that transcendental truth cannot be gained through the application of reason alone. What is left is what necessarily underpins any edifice of reason: faith.
Faith is what the Hierophant offers - faith, the "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," as the Book of Hebrews relates. Faith is often derided in our materialist culture; but the truth is revealed when we consider the foundation of that culture - for it rests on certain axioms of ontology, of epistemology, which in their nature are not and cannot be proven from earlier principles. Faith is the bedrock of rational consciousness: faith, which appears to admit none of the character of reason, turns out to be essential to reason; just as reason, appearing to ridicule faith, depends upon it. This is an intimate paradox, whose nature I shall leave it to the reader to decide.
It is tempting to assert that enlightenment, that cannot be accomplished through Reason alone, can be accomplished through Faith. There are even examples that seem to corroborate this assertion; but, in truth, Faith alone fails too. The reason for this is in fact rather subtle; it has to do with the relative plasticity of Reason.
Suppose you hold some view derived logically from certain agreed axioms - as a trivial example, suppose you are of the opinion that there are no black swans, based on the empirical observation that you have never seen anything but white swans and the meta-empirical observation that empirical observations are reliable arbiters of actual fact. Suppose you then encounter a black swan. This new datum contradicts a predicate of your hypothesis, and, as a rational thinker, you revise your hypothesis: you accept the existence of black swans (this possibility is why Hume had a Problem with Induction).
Now, suppose your belief that all swans were white stemmed from a pure faith, unsullied by Reason. Suppose you encountered a black swan: your faith would not admit its existence. You would rationalize that it was not a swan, or that it was a white swan painted black, or that you imagined it, or any of a hundred other counterfactuals to avoid having to assail your article of faith.
Faith in the transcendent is a precursor to enlightenment; faith in the merely subjective is a barrier to enlightenment. And neither Faith, nor Reason, will enable us to tell the difference...
This then, is both the power and the peril of the Heirophant: that he offers a reality more permanent than the one we can apprehend through Reason, yet less certainly true.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Clothes maketh the man

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power,
the world will know peace.
" ~ Jimi Hendrix
Hans Christian Andersen gives us a tale, among many, that concerns a certain Emperor. This Emperor desired clothes suitable for his noble standing and prodigious authority; two wily tailors claimed that they had such garments, possessed of this property - that only persons of the wit and nobility of the Emperor would be able to see them. Accepting the Emperor's gold, they proceeded to drape him in entirely imaginary raiment, before leading His Imperial Majesty to a mirror. Unable to admit that he saw himself naked - mindful that only a mean and ignoble mind would see him thus - the Emperor confessed himself delighted, and went forth among his courtiers. They, like their Emperor, were unwilling to admit what was right before their eyes; bound by convention, by fear, by orthodoxy, they all gathered round and praised the wholly fictitious new clothes. A parade was arranged, the better to display the Emperor's wonderful new clothes to his subjects; as it happened, one of these was a small boy, too foolish to have accepted the conventional wisdom, who cried out "the Emperor is naked!" Horror turned to hilarity as the crowd accepted the boy was right; the power of the Emperor was broken, and he was humiliated.
There is a lesson here when we consider the Fourth Key of the Major Arcana, also The Emperor. Where the Empress denotes the natural energy of qi, the Emperor represents the shaping and harnessing of energy, the imposition of will upon the world, the establishment of order. Malaclypse the Younger might remark that the Empress reflects upon the Eristic Illusion, while the Emperor reflects upon the Aneristic Illusion. The truth, as we might guess, is neither of these illusions, and also both.
Although the Emperor is the Fourth Key, he is the fifth card in the Major Arcana. The Law of Fives tells us that he should have some significance as a result, but we should be alerted by the presence of the Zeroeth Key that the significance here can be misleading. Parasimplicity necessarily entails doubt, which is another restatement of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. All the same, the stability - the permanence - of The Emperor is another characteristic of the transcendent, and it is interesting to note that the card, self-similarly perhaps, has undergone rather less transformation down the ages than other members of the Arcana. The hidden weakness beneath the apparent strength of The Emperor is the one alluded to in that Andersen fairy tale: namely, that his belief in his own power blinds him to the existence of anything beyond it. Being merely puissant, the Emperor believes himself to be, in King James' memorable phrasing, a "little God on Earth." His inflexibility in a world of flux renders him susceptible to obsolescence.
The Emperor is a cautionary tale; emblematic of structure, he carries the implicit reminder that all that can be made, can be unmade. As Solomon's ring reminded him: Gam Zeh Ya'avor.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Elan Vital

"Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist
but the ability to start over.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
Where the Popess is identified with the intuitive Virgin, the feminine yet unsullied by the masculine, the fourth Tarot card - the Empress - is identified with the fecund Mother; her association is with Isis, where the Popess is with Hathor. The second aspect of the Triple Goddess, she is the Queen of Heaven; she is the vessel of the lifeforce, the elan vital.
Numbered 3, the Empress represents the common energy between the One and the Two, the energy of increase, the parasimplistic urge to be more than one's mere being-in-the-moment. In Rider-Waite, she is seated with crown and scepter, and her throne is carved with a heart-shaped design: because love can be understood as this energy of increase, the motivating force that makes an individual seek to become part of something more. The Empress is both a signifier of love and of fertility.
Although she restores balance to the first four cards of the Tarot, being a second female after the first two males, the Empress is not a union of the energies, a divine androgyne; she is not a parasimplex. She does, however, embody the parasimplicity principle: her presence in a drawing indicates a desire for increase, and generally the gratification of that desire. 'Increase' here could be material, although usually a somewhat more spiritual development is implied.
The energy of the Empress is universal; it is undirected, but it flows inevitably between living things. It is identifiable with qi in Chinese belief: the acupuncturist places needles at key meridians in the human body to identify and redirect the flow of qi, just as the feng shui practitioner orients the furnishing of a room to promote harmonious flow through the building (qi, accordingly, is self-similar and so partakes of the character of transcendence). Although these examples indicate that the energy can be controlled, it would be a mistake to think of it as something that ought to be harnessed. The principle of wei wuwei recognizes this implicitly.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pope Joan

"I am more afraid of my own heart than the Pope
and all his Cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.
~ Martin Luther
The Pope is the spiritual leader of Roman Catholicism, the 'Vicar of Christ,' God's right hand on Earth. According to orthodox Roman Catholic doctrine, the Pope is infallible - his word is divinely inspired, and so cannot be in error (the Muslim prophet Mohammed, in what you may see as an echo or evolution or reflection of this, remarked in the Hadith that "my people cannot agree on error;" as a result, ijma, or 'consensus,' is considered in scholarly Islamic circles to be a basis of religious authority. Authority, and fallibility, have not been explicitly discussed as yet, but of course they are centrally important to a parasimplistic worldview). One might expect that in the spiritually symbolic Major Arcana, one would find a Pope, and one does (his number, as Malaclypse the Younger could tell you, is 5, and we'll come to a discussion of his import later); but first, one finds a Popess.
The reason for this is tied in with the numerology we talked about a while ago, the arithmetic underpinning of the Law of Fives. The Magician, numbered 1, represents the apotheosis of the Self in this moment (allegorically, the Self in the moment of satori, the Self in the moment of awareness of itself qua self) - but this Sein-in-der-Welt is, of course, not the parasimplistic self, which is both itself and something more than itself. The Magician is identity, and Identity is an illusion.
The Popess, numbered 2, is duality; this is represented most clearly by her obvious femininity, by contrast with the foregoing two cards (respectively showing Man in the folly of ignorance, and Man in the folly of self-knowledge). In Rider-Waite, she is shown with a crescent Moon at her feet - this is also the iconographic depiction of the Virgin in Roman Catholicism, in reference to the Book of Revelations (and, intriguingly, according to one theory, in reference to Catholicism itself, and what came before it) - and wears the diadem of Hathor, the Egyptian "Mistress of the West." Both allusions identify the Popess with motherhood, with the divine, and with the yin energy of the taijitu. In Rider-Waite, she is depicted holding the Torah and seated between the pillars of the Temple of Solomon, reinforcing the syncretism of the imagery.
(The Popess also has a historical imagery to it, a very early and subversive element of proto-feminism, but despite her appearance in the title, Pope Joan is not a subject for discussion in this metanow.)
The Popess can be understood as the apotheosis of the female, which is more than mere Identity because the female can nurture and birth new beings. The female explicitly has something of the divine energy of Creation in her, which the male can merely ape with construction of unliving devices. The symbolism of the Virgin is significant here; the Popess powerfully alludes to the Pagan Triple Goddess of Maiden, Mother, and Crone, and the biologically necessary role of the male in conception is not to be understood here as part of the Divine Mystery of creation. Where the Fool represented blind faith, and the Magician self-knowledge, the Popess betokens intuition - a sense of things unseen, complementary to and cumulative with the Magician's arid knowledge of what is clearly before him. The Popess makes the connections between things without needing to know what those things-in-themselves are; the Magician understands things in their nature without appreciating the wholeness of the world. Thus the necessity of union between the energies for balance, and for enlightenment.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Magical thinking

"Has the world ever been changed by anything
save by thought and its magic vehicle the Word?
~ Thomas Mann
The Fool is numbered 0; he is nothing, a blank slate, a tabula rasa, ignorant even of his own ignorance. The Magician, second of the Major Arcana, and numbered 1, is the Fool within the Abyss, knowing himself and his ignorance and the transformative power of that ignorance. The Magician is the Fool enabled, energized, created; he is the Trickster God made manifest.
Where the Fool represents the seeker after wisdom, the Magician represents the awareness of things unseen. He is not the apotheosis of wisdom - that comes later - but he is on the path, because he is no longer seeking. What we are seeking, we cannot have found, or else we would not be seeking it. The Magician understands that it is more efficient to stop looking and instead focus on seeing. In Rider-Waite, the Magician is crowned with infinity, and girdled with Ourobouros: all things begin and end in this moment of awareness, this consciousness, this satori. The staff of the Fool has transformed into the wand of the Magician; the wand is raised to the heavens, while his other hand points to the earth.
The Magician is the bridge between the subjectively real and the transcendentally surreal; he is the Gateless Gate. He is the potential in Man, the aptitude, the capacity. Self-aware, self-possessed, self-sufficient, he is the catalyst: unchanging himself, he changes all. This is the mystery beyond reason. This is the maker and unmaker of mountains and rivers. This is the beguiler of the senses, the deceiver of the mind, the keyholder to the doors of perception. Should we trust him? That doubt is the manifestation of the Unknown; fear of the Abyss keeps us from him, but acceptance of the Abyss - Foolishness - encourages us to take the leap of faith. We take nothing in there with us; we are only ourselves, but fortunately ourselves are more than our selves, since we are parasimplices. The Magician knows this, knows us, intimately; the Magician is us, any of us, when we accept all of what we are - fearlessly, foolishly, fully.
The Magician represents, above all, the mystical process by which the unknowable objective is transcended to become subjectively real. This most crucial mystery is the beginning of all magic: it is the creatio ex nihilo, the divine spark without which the world remains meaningless and void.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fooling about

"A fool thinks himself to be wise,
but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
~ William Shakespeare
The Fool is the first of the Major Arcana - the twenty-two trump cards of the Tarot deck - that we will consider: fittingly, because it is the first, and so, of course, numbered... zero. The twenty-two cards represent what some call "the Fool's journey," which can be represented as the evolution from folly to wisdom (although in the truer transcendental sense, it's the evolution from seeing the folly in the Fool to seeing the wisdom in the Fool).
There are a number of illustrations used to depict the Fool; perhaps the most famous sequence is the Rider-Waite deck which dates back to the early 20th century. It shows a medieval "fool," a court-jester-type, strolling unconcerned, head back, a staff slung over his shoulder with his meager possessions in a bag on the end, a dog trotting along by his side. He carries an innocent white rose. He is walking blindly towards the lip of a precipice.
Earlier versions from the Italian Trionfi (which was a popular card game; Tarot cards are still used for playing as well as divination) depict a beggar or a wild man, in some cases chased by the dog that accompanies him in Rider-Waite. In some French versions, the Fool becomes a more stylized analogue to the traditional Joker of conventional playing cards.
Symbolically, the Fool represents a rich mythological tradition of tricksters, from Kokopelli to Anansi to Loki to Shaitan to Rumpelstiltskin. Like Lucifer - the light-bearer - the Fool is about to plunge into the darkness of the Abyss, which is only implicated in Rider-Waite but represents the Unknown, the darkness of ignorance. Reason recoils from ignorance as the alert man shies away from the abyss; but the Fool is without fear. He accepts the Abyss without needing to interrogate it. He plunges into the Unknown neither willingly nor unwillingly; he plunges into it because it is before him, and for no other reason.
Just as zero produces all numbers - creatio ex nihilo - so the Fool produces all the other possibilities through his interaction with the Void. The Fool seeks wisdom, but he does not seek it consciously: he seeks wisdom because he is a Fool. In emptying his mind, he enters the void; in entering the void, he loses material things [his pack], beauty [the rose], and the world [the dog], and finds what the void has for him.
Nietzsche said: when you stare into the Abyss, the Abyss stares back.
The Fool is mankind subjected to that pitiless reflected stare; Mankind at his core, Mankind compelled by his basest instincts toward acquisition, toward beauty, toward companionship, and toward transcendence. He is both a beginning and an end; a reliquary for wisdom and a dispenser of wisdom; an origin and a goal. There's a reason his number is zero, and there's a reason that zero is represented by a circle. But we'll get around to that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Poker face

"Creativity is the ability to introduce order
into the randomness of nature.
" ~ Eric Hoffer
Quantum theory concerns the very smallest particles in the universe; particles so very small that they form the building blocks of subatomic particles like the electron. At the quantum level, matter behaves very strangely - what we think of as particles act more like waves, and what we think of as immutable physical properties become much more mutable. Heisenberg's famous Uncertainty Principle tells us that the more precisely we measure one property at this level, the more imprecise other properties become - for example, we might be able to exactly determine a particle's position at a moment in time, but only at the cost of being entirely unable to divine anything about its velocity. This result is commonly conflated with the 'observer effect,' but is distinct from it - randomness, it turns out, is 'baked in' to the observed world. The validity of scientific laws, that make the world around us a relatively predictable and orderly place, depend upon a substrate which is fundamentally unpredictable and chaotic. This is an iteration of the Paradox of Self-Reference, of course.
If we think of the subjective realm as being infinitesimally close to, and yet inevitably distant from, the transcendental, it makes a degree of sense for the subjective, at the limits of measurable perception, to approach closest to the transcendental. If we think of the transcendental as the fundament from which all possible energy-states spring, it makes sense for randomness - probability; potential - to be the recognizable characteristic of transcendence as it immanesces upon the subjective.
Happily, we don't have to supercool an atom and bombard it with radiation countless times to identify this kind of randomness in operation. At the macro level we have plenty of analogues to choose from: rolling dice, shuffling decks of cards, throwing yarrow stalks into the air and seeing how they land (incidentally, one of the fundamental constants, pi, emerges from the latter if you look at it right). The first of these is not well-known as a form of divination, although Luke Rhinehart can attest to its power; the latter two, however, certainly are. My knowledge of the I Ching is very limited in this metanow; but I know a thing or two about cartomancy, and my own experiences with the Tarot deck have reinforced my belief in a parasimplistic universe. In essence, all forms of divination have this character: that they combine a certain degree of conscious analysis with a certain degree of deliberate randomness. Successful diviners demonstrate the ability to associate elements freely, without imposing a pattern on what they see - the better to clarify the pattern that exists within them already. FIAT applies: everything is connected, because everything is everything. The Tarot cards can tell us anything we want to know about anything at all, because they embody the characteristic randomness of the transcendental. Insofar as we can avoid rationalizing and pre-empting the judgement of the cards, we can access the transcendental in our own consciousness and let the cards speak through us. It is to the cards of the Major Arcana, and their symbolic significance, that we turn next.