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“Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine & Ritual” by Eliphas Levi: Part 1 – Doctrine

Many years ago, I owned a small business that was next door to a used book store. I had a nice little barter deal going with them, where they gave me books and I provided them with food and beverages. They knew the kinds of books I was interested in, and would let me know when books arrived that might be of interest. This was one of those books, and it has been on my shelf for 15 years, but I am finally getting around to reading it. I believe that we read books exactly when we are supposed to.

Eliphas Levi was a nineteenth-century occultist and magician, whose real name was Alphonse Louis Constant. “’Éliphas Lévi’, the name under which he published his books, was his attempt to translate or transliterate his given names ‘Alphonse Louis’ into the Hebrew language.” (Source: Wikipedia) The text that I have is translated from the French original by Arthur Edward Waite, famous occultist and poet, best known as the co-creator of the popular Rider-Waite Tarot Deck.

The book is divided into two parts: Doctrine and Ritual. I finished reading the first half of the book, and decided to take a break, allow myself to digest what I read, and share my thoughts. I plan on reading the Ritual portion in the near future and will write about that half when I’m done.

As with all great occult texts, much is hidden for the reader to discover, and this book is no exception. In his introduction, Levi points out that the structure of the text is symbolic.

The numbers and subjects of the chapters, which correspond in both parts, are in no sense arbitrary, and are all indicated in the great universal key, of which we give for the first time a complete and adequate explanation.

(p. 31)

As mentioned already, the text is in two parts, itself symbolic of divine duality: masculine/feminine, body/spirit, positive/negative, theory/application, as above-so below, and the list goes on. But now it gets deeper. Each of the two sections contains 22 chapters. These correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and to the 22 cards that comprise the Major Arcana in the tarot. This makes sense, since Levi stresses the importance and power of kabbalah and tarot as complete magical systems. So with this foreknowledge, each chapter should be read and interpreted through the lens of the corresponding tarot card, and the kabbalistic meaning of the corresponding Hebrew letter. Now, this level of interpretation is way beyond the scope of this blog post, so suffice to say that if you are not familiar with these magical systems, then this is not a text you should be attempting to read.

In the first chapter of the Doctrine (for correspondences, think Aleph and The Fool), Levi provides a definition of magic for those who are starting out on the path.

Before proceeding further, let us define Magic in a sentence. Magic is the traditional science of the secrets of Nature which has been transmitted to us from the Magi. By means of this science the adept is invested with a species of relative omnipotence and can operate superhumanly—that is, after a manner which transcends the normal possibility of men.

(p. 36)

So essentially, the study of magic is the study of the hidden laws of Nature. For me, this is why I see a strong relationship between physics and the occult. Both seek to understand the laws of Nature which form the inner and outer universes. Once an understanding of the natural laws is gained, then one can manipulate reality based upon interaction with forces that exist at the quantum level. But know that these things should not be taken lightly. Remember the Fool as he is about to step blindly off the cliff if he fails to heed the warning from the dog.

OK, if you’ve followed me this far and your head has not exploded yet, then you are ready for the last thing I want to talk about regarding the Doctrine. I’ll begin by citing Levi again.

Diseased souls have an evil breath and vitiate their moral atmosphere – that is, they combine impure reflections with the Astral Light which permeates them and establish unwholesome currents therein. We are often assailed, to our astonishment, in society by evil thoughts which would have seemed antecedently impossible and are not aware that they are due to some morbid proximity. This secret is of high importance, for it leads to the unveiling of consciences, one of the most incontestible and terrible powers of Magical Art. Magnetic respiration produces about the soul a radiation of which it is the centre, and thus surrounds it with the reflection of its own works, creating for it a heaven or hell. There are no isolated acts, and it is impossible that there should be secret acts; whatsoever we will truly, that is, everything which we confirm by our acts, remains registered in the Astral Light, where our reflections are preserved. These reflections influence our thought continually by the mediation of the DIAPHANE, and it is in this sense that we become and remain the children of our works.

(p. 108)

So the premise here is that our thoughts have a direct influence on the world around us. Basically, our thoughts create our realities. Now if this seems a little “new agey” you should know that this is supported by scientific experimentation in quantum physics. Photons react based upon the intended way that researchers choose to measure them. If it is decided to measure them as waves, then they become waves. If it is decided to measure them as particles, then they become particles. But they can only be one or the other, not both. Essentially, our thoughts and our will impact the structural reality of the world around us at a sub-atomic level. If you want to learn more about this, check out this article from Science Magazine.

So I have barely scratched the surface of the first half of this dense book. But that is all I feel I should share. Those who are interested in these studies can explore the text on their own. I will be sharing my thoughts on the Ritual portion of the book once I finish that. Until then, keep reading cool and interesting stuff.

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Occult Symbolism in “Promethea: Book 2” by Alan Moore

Promethea_2

I’ve read a lot of books in my lifetime, so being completely blown away by a book has become a somewhat rare occurrence for me. This is a book that has completely blown me away. When I finished the last page, it was like a nuclear explosion of consciousness went off within my psyche. I have never seen such complex mystical ideas expressed so clearly and beautifully, both through the text and the illustrations. There is so much occult philosophy embedded in these pages, it’s impossible to do it justice in a short blog post, but I will try. I figure I will lightly touch on some of the themes and ideas that are incorporated into this work, and then elaborate on one chapter that demonstrates the complexity of this book.

Moore draws from a wealth of mythology and occult philosophy in the creation of Promethea, who is essentially the divine feminine manifestation of the Prometheus myth. This alone is a wonderful interpretation of the myth, about the bringing of enlightenment (symbolized by fire) to humankind. But like Yeats’ widening gyres, Moore expands on the myth by incorporating a plethora of allusions to occult philosophies and then ties them all together, showing the connection between the philosophies and myths throughout the millennia. Just to provide a sense of just how much is woven in, there are references to Aleister Crowley, Eliaphas Levi, the Goetia, Faust, the Vedic texts, kundalini, tantric yoga, kabbalah, tarot, alternate planes of existence, and the list goes on. The sheer amount of literary and visual symbolism on just a single page could spawn a lengthy analytical post.

So now I will attempt to give a very high-level summary of Chapter 6, the final chapter in the book.

In this chapter, Promethea, having studied the occult texts provided to her by Faust, realizes she has learned all she can about magick from reading and must now move into experiential learning. So she consults the two snakes that form the Caduceus, or the staff of Hermes. The twin serpents explain the occult history of humanity and all existence through the symbols of the 22 tarot cards that comprise the Major Arcana. Now, the explanation of each card and its symbolic connection to the evolution of being also includes many references to science, genetics, mysticism, numerology, kabbalah, etc. But for simplicity’s sake, I will only provide a brief summary of each card and its occult significance according to this book.

0 – The Fool: Symbolizes the nothingness or quantum void from which time and space are formed.

I – The Magician: Symbolizes the masculine creative urge, embodied in the phallic wand, which generates the initial spark or big bang.

II – The High Priestess: Symbolizes the highest female energy, the foetal darkness where all existence gestates. From her, the cosmos is born.

III – The Empress: Symbolizes fecundity and the seeds of life, along with the four elements. We now have the building blocks for life and consciousness.

IV – The Emperor: Symbolizes the moment when divine energy achieves substantiality.

V – The Hierophant: Symbolizes evolution, the visionary force that guides the first single cells to evolve into the first human hominid.

VI – The Lovers: Symbolizes sacred alchemy and the first spark of divine consciousness in humans.

VII – The Chariot: Symbolizes the advent of early shamanism and mysticism. Through the use of nectar, ambrosia, and soma, consciousness is expanded.

VIII – Justice: Symbolizes period of adjustment, where humans implement laws and build the foundations of civilization.

IX – The Hermit: Symbolizes a phase of entering a cave, from which will emerge a more developed and complex civilization.

X – The Wheel of Fortune: Symbolizes the cyclical rise and fall of civilizations: Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc.

XI – Strength: Symbolizes lust, particularly for power, which is the impetus for conquering empires.

XII – The Hanged Man: Symbolizes man’s dark age, a necessary ordeal which marks the transition from the state of empire. The world is upside down.

XIII – Death: Symbolizes a period of transition, marking the end of dark ages before the rebirth of light.

XIV – Temperance: Symbolizes the Renaissance. Science, art, and beauty are combined alchemically.

XV – The Devil: Symbolizes the decline of the spiritual (Age of Reason). The inverted pentacle has four points (the four elements representing the earthly) while a single point (the spirit) is subjugated and trampled.

XVI – The Tower: Symbolizes Industrial Revolution, culminating in the first World War.

XVII – The Star: Symbolizes the renewed interest in mysticism and the occult following WWI. Here we have the birth of Theosophy, Golden Dawn, etc.

XVII – The Moon: Symbolizes mankind’s darkest hour before the dawn. Insanity. “Auschwitz, Hiroshima, each blight, each tyranny obscures the light.”

XIX – The Sun: Symbolizes the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Here we have new interest in Buddhism, astrology, I-Ching, and so forth.

XX – Judgment Day: Symbolizes the moment of apocalypse which will be brought about by the information age, once we reach the point where speed of technology and information causes a new form of consciousness to be born. (Note: Moore writes that this will occur in the year 2017.)

XXI – The Universe: Symbolizes the moment in which humans transcend the earthly plane of existence.

As I said earlier, there is no way I could do justice to this book in a short blog post. I strongly encourage you to read Promethea. Start with the first book and work through. There are I believe five books total. I have the third already waiting to be read. Expect to hear my thoughts on it soon.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 1

Ulysses_S

The first three episodes focus on Stephen Dedalus, who is the protagonist in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This correlates with the first four books of Homer’s Odyssey in which Telemachus is the focus. Stephen is a young, aspiring poet who is in mourning over the death of his mother. He is generally considered to be James Joyce’s alter ego.

The first thing to note about this episode is the giant S at the beginning. As with anything symbolic, there can be any number of interpretations, all of which can be equally valid. For example, it could simply imply that Stephen is the focus of the first episode. Possibly, it is an allusion to alliteration that will appear throughout the text, the ess sound being predominant in the name Ulysses. One could argue that it represents the (s)ymbolism found in (s)tories. I personally have my own theory, but I am not going to share it just yet. I will do so at the end of this blog series, since I feel it is part of one of the larger themes in the book. (Note: This was the topic of my college thesis on Ulysses, which I will try to locate in the attic before we finish the book.)

Early in the episode, Stephen says, “I’m not a hero, however.” (p. 4) I see a double entendre here. On one level, Joyce is making it clear that Stephen is not the hero of the book; hence he is not representative of Odysseus. But I think this is also a reference to Joyce’s then unpublished manuscript of Stephen Hero. This was an early version of a manuscript that would later become Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As the story goes, it was rejected by the publisher and Joyce ended up throwing into the fire. It was secretly retrieved and published posthumously.

Similarities are established between Stephen and Hamlet. Buck Mulligan accuses Stephen of brooding, in the same way that Claudius chides Hamlet.

—Don’t mope over it all day, he said. I’m inconsequent. Give up the moody brooding.

(p. 9)

Stephen is then described as being haunted by his mother’s ghost, similar to Hamlet being visited by the ghost of his father.

In a dream, silently, she had come to him, her wasted body within its loose graveclothes giving off the odour of wax and rosewood, her breath bent over him with mute secret words, a faint odour of wetted ashes.

Her glazing eyes, staring out of death, to shake and bend my soul. On me alone. The ghostcandle to light her agony. Ghostly light on the tortured face. Her hoarse loud breath rattling in horror, while all prayed on their knees. Her eyes on me to strike me down.

(p. 10)

Earlier in the post, I had mentioned alliteration. This is a literary tool that Joyce uses well and there is a great example in this episode where he uses words beginning with the letter “W” to evoke the sensation of waves and water.

Woodshadows floated silently by through the morning peace from the stairhead seaward where he gazed. Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. White breast from the dim sea. The twining stresses, two by two. A hand plucking the harpstraings merging their twining chords. Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide.

(p. 9)

Martello tower, the setting for this episode, figures prominently. It is likened to Elsinore, which supports the connection between Stephen and Hamlet.

—I mean to say, Haines explained to Stephen as they followed, this tower and these cliffs here remind me somehow of Elsinore. That beetles o’er his base into the sea, isn’t it?

(p. 18)

I also see a couple other connections with the tower image. First, I suspect it is meant to serve as a reference to William Butler Yeats, whose poem “Who Goes With Fergus” is quoted by Mulligan. (p. 9) While Yeats’ “The Tower” wasn’t published until 1928, after Ulysses, Yeats was residing at Thoor Ballylee (the tower that would become the symbol in Yeats’ poem later on) at the time that Joyce was working on his book. Secondly, I see a connection to the Tower card in the tarot deck. The Tower, for those who know tarot, is about the worst card you can get. It foretells a catastrophic, unexpected event. This seems to be in keeping with Odysseus’ ill-fated journey home, where he faces one unexpected disaster and danger after another. The cards are stacked against him, so to speak.

The very end of this episode really solidifies the connection between Joyce’s novel and The Odyssey, while at the same time reinforcing the connection between Stephen and Hamlet. There is imagery of not being able to return home, of being out at sea. Also, there is an emphasis on the archetype of the usurper, which can be interpreted as both Penelope’s suitors and Claudius, who usurped Hamlet’s throne.

The priest’s grey nimbus in a niche where he dressed discreetly. I will not sleep here tonight. Home also I cannot go.

A voice, sweettoned and sustained, called to him from the sea. Turning the curve he waved his hand. It called again. A sleek brown head, a seal’s, far out on the water, round.

(p. 23)

This is extremely dense text, and I could certainly write much longer, picking apart the minutia. But that’s not my goal. I want to hit on some of the big themes and the symbolism that resonates with me personally. That said, if there is anything you want to add, please post in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Next week I will cover Episode 2 which ends on page 36. The last line of that episode is: “On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins.”

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Dedalus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telemachus

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/characters.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thoor_Ballylee

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“The Outsider” by H. P. Lovecraft

HPLovecraftMy close friend Byron recently posted that this is her favorite story by Lovecraft. Since she is someone whose literary opinions I highly respect, I decided to read it. Surprisingly, it was not in my hardcover collection of Lovecraft’s works, but I was able to find it online (click here to access the online version). If you are not familiar with this story, you should read it first, because there are spoilers in this post. It would be impossible to write about this story without giving away the ending.

This story sucked me in from the very first paragraph, which expressed a feeling of alienation which often plagued me when I was younger.

Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness. Wretched is he who looks back upon lone hours in vast and dismal chambers with brown hangings and maddening rows of antique books, or upon awed watches in twilight groves of grotesque, gigantic, and vine-encumbered trees that silently wave twisted branches far aloft. Such a lot the gods gave to me – to me, the dazed, the disappointed; the barren, the broken. And yet I am strangely content and cling desperately to those sere memories, when my mind momentarily threatens to reach beyond to the other.

Like my younger self, the protagonist spent his days living vicariously through books, seeking to escape the lonely crypt of isolation.

I would often lie and dream for hours about what I read in the books; and would longingly picture myself amidst gay crowds in the sunny world beyond the endless forests.

TarotTowerThe outsider then decides to ascend the tower of the castle where he dwells. The description of the climb up the tower caused my heart to race, sensing that some terrible secret lay at the top, or that some dire event would occur upon reaching the summit. I kept getting images of The Tower card from the tarot deck and the impending doom associated with the card.

Ghastly and terrible was that dead, stairless cylinder of rock; black, ruined, and deserted, and sinister with startled bats whose wings made no noise. But more ghastly and terrible still was the slowness of my progress; for climb as I might, the darkness overhead grew no thinner, and a new chill as of haunted and venerable mould assailed me.

Upon reaching the top of the tower, the outsider is thrilled by the light of a full moon. I got the sense that the person was experiencing a symbolic birth, emerging from the birth canal symbolized by the tower, to come forth into a new realm of light and mystery.

As I did so there came to me the purest ecstasy I have ever known; for shining tranquilly through an ornate grating of iron, and down a short stone passageway of steps that ascended from the newly found doorway, was the radiant full moon, which I had never before seen save in dreams and in vague visions I dared not call memories.

The person discovers that the tower actually led up from an underground vault. He then wanders forth until he comes upon a group of people, who flee from him in horror. The outsider does not understand why until he comes upon a mirror and sees his reflection, discovering that he is but the decayed remains of a long-dead person.

I did not shriek, but all the fiendish ghouls that ride the nightwind shrieked for me as in that same second there crashed down upon my mind a single fleeting avalanche of soul-annihilating memory. I knew in that second all that had been; I remembered beyond the frightful castle and the trees, and recognized the altered edifice in which I now stood; I recognized, most terrible of all, the unholy abomination that stood leering before me as I withdrew my sullied fingers from its own.

The tale concludes with references to ancient Egypt, leading one to conclude that the outsider is a mummified being who after countless centuries has finally been resurrected. Unfortunately, though, the world has changed, and there is no longer a place where he belongs. He is left to haunt this realm, riding the winds of night along with the other ghouls and creatures of darkness.

All of us emerge from our dark wombs bringing with us vague fragments of memories. We are then cast into a world in which we are alone, outsiders, until we connect with creatures like ourselves. Then, after we die, we again traverse the dark corridor as we move toward the light of the next realm of our existence. This cycle of birth-death-rebirth is what Lovecraft captures in a frightening and fascinating way with this story, a story I suspect I will read again.

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“Artemis” by Gerard de Nerval

DeNervalMany years ago, I was in a bookstore on Miami Beach and I got into a discussion with a woman working there about writers. She mentioned that Gerard de Nerval was one of her favorite poets. I made a mental note, but up until today I had not read anything by him. Feeling the need to branch out and read something different, I did a little web-searching and came across “Artemis,” which I am including here to ensure we are reading the same translation.

The thirteenth returns … She’s forever the first;
And always the sole one – or the sole instant;
For are you queen, O you, the first or the last?
Are you king, you the sole or the last lover?…
Love him who loved you from cradle to hearse;
She I alone loved still loves me tenderly:
She is death – or the dead one…O joy! O torment!
The rose she holds is the Rose trémiere [hollyhock].
Neapolitan saint with your hands full of fire,
Rose with violet heart, Saint Gudula’s flower:
Have you found your cross in the desert of heaven?
White roses: fall! You insult our gods,
Fall, white phantoms, from your burning skies:
— She, the saint of the pit, is holier to my eyes!

On my first read of this poem, I didn’t quite grasp it. There is a lot of symbolism here and I wasn’t sure how it all related to the Greek goddess Artemis, who represents virginity and hunting, similar to Diana. I decided to do a little research.

I discovered that de Nerval was a romantic poet who had some serious issues in the area of love. He ended up hanging himself in 1855. He immediately struck me as a real-life version of Goethe’s tormented artist depicted in The Sorrows of Young Werther. Now the poem began to make sense to me. I could see de Nerval as a lonely, suffering artist, feeling himself a virgin because he was unable to find love and longing for the solace of death.

TarotDeathI searched a little more and came across a great analysis of the poem and this clarified the other aspects of the poem which still didn’t make sense. The author of this article asserts that, in this poem, de Nerval was drawing on symbolism from the tarot, particularly the Death card (click here to read the entire article). The Death card is number XIII in the deck, or “The thirteenth” referenced in the poem’s opening line. So the thought of death keeps returning to the poet. He has a romantic longing for death, feeling that upon his death his soul will finally be united with some divine, unattainable love.

I wish I was able to read French so I could read this poem in its original language. I’m sure that some of the symbolism is lost in translation. But still, I find this poem deeply moving, and I recall what my World Lit professor told me in college, that French literature translates well to English. I can say that I certainly get a sense of the writer’s suffering and longing. I suspect that I will be reading more of Gerard de Nerval’s works in the future.

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“Tarot Card Meanings” by Thirteen

I have owned a tarot deck for many years, but never really spent enough time with the cards to learn them. I recently decided to take some time to learn the interpretations and symbolism of the cards. So I contacted my friend Erin who is well-versed in tarot and asked her to recommend a book to help me learn the cards. Instead of a book, she suggested a website that provides detailed explanations of each card (click here to view the site).

Thirteen (the author) really does a great job detailing each of the 78 cards, pointing out interesting symbolism in the images and tying the cards together into a unified story. By the time I finished studying all the cards, taking my time and meditating on the imagery, I felt I had gained a deeper understanding of the cards and now feel confident in actually reading them.

If you are interested in the tarot, you should definitely check out this site, especially if you are a beginner. Even if you have no inclination to actually attempt to read tarot cards, you may find the site interesting since Thirteen’s insights into the symbols will likely help you interpret symbolism in paintings, books, and other art forms.

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