Archive for the ‘Hamlet’ Tag

Walking the Major Arcana, Part 5   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

I’m dancing with Tarot in this series, not aspiring to any profound system of interpretation, but skating with images across a frozen pond, juggling globes of fire, listening for the music the stars make overhead.

In this, as so often on this blog, I’m listening to bards here, rather than scholars. Recall Billy Collins’ wise “Introduction to Poetry” If you don’t know it, or haven’t read it recently, take a moment right now. Try it out, as I do frequently, as an antidote to too much right-brain-ness.

The HANGED MAN

12-Hanged-ManSo what does the Hanged Man, card 12 of the Major Arcana, represent? Odin? Jesus? Both? Neither?

This kind of question, one that assumes that if you can ask it, there’s a reasonable, logical, unambiguous answer to it, reflects a confusion of planes, categories, realities, etc., that we all fall into from time to time.

“But what does it mean?” looks like an innocent query, even though it’s often anything but. Yet we keep on asking, tossing the grenade, just like we keep on believing (for a short time, anyway) anyone with enough authority to state categorically, emphatically, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt, once-and-for-all-time, that X “means” Y. (If X “really” meant Y, they’d be the same thing, and we wouldn’t be asking the question. Or we could simply all become goddess-devotees, knowing that “one thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother”, and that certain questions just have to be un-asked, if we’re to get any sleep at all.)

Something’s going on with this hanging dude, or dudette. He or she has a “fire in the head”, and looks at surprising ease all inverted there, suspended on a tau-cross, like some gnostic St. Peter, who asked to be crucified upside-down, so as not to aspire to equal honor with his Master. (Invert that sh*t, says the imp in me.)

Then, too, we have the figure 4 the legs make, about which much ink has been spilled. (Run with half a dozen interpretations as long as they last, and report back to your cerebellum at the conclusion.)

Certainly I’m a hanged one, as are you — we all are, at least at times. In Matthews’ Arthurian deck, the card is the Wounded King, the ruler of a wasteland in need of healing and restoration.

W. B. Yeats of Golden Dawn fame knew this — the Tarot features largely in the Golden Dawn ritual and symbolism — and Yeats gave himself the magical name Daemon est Deus Inversus, abbreviated DEDI (which not too incidentally is Latin for “I gave”). Demon is God upside-down. Or vice versa. For more than you want to know about the name and its significance, here’s just one of the links Google will offer you, should you opt to enter the phrase (and you should, as a form of spiritual roulette) in that innocent-seeming search box:

Iamblichus’s doctrine that the immortal soul becomes mortal is puzzling for Platonic scholars. According to Iamblichus, the embodied soul not only becomes mortal; as human, it also becomes “alienated” (allotriōthen) from divinity. Iamblichus maintains that the alienation and mortality of the soul are effected by daemons that channel the soul’s universal and immortal identity into a singular and mortal self. Yet, while daemons alienate the soul from divinity they also outline the path to recover it. Iamblichus maintains that daemons unfold the will of the Demiurge into material manifestation and thus reveal its divine signatures (sunthēmata) in nature. According to Iamblichus’s theurgical itinerary, the human soul—materialized, alienated, and mortal—must learn to embrace its alienated and mortal condition as a form of demiurgic activity. By ritually entering this demiurgy the soul transforms its alienation and mortality into theurgy. The embodied soul becomes an icon of divinity.

Why are both Jesus and Satan called the “morning star” in the Bible, and both referred to as serpents? For we have Jesus making the arresting observation: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Here’s one of our challenges, then, to run through a series of metaphors: to lift up the serpent, to raise the kundalini, to recover the divine in our deeds, thoughts and words, to become, in Iamblichus’s words, an icon of divinity. Or you can scratch any interpretative itch with an Orthodox reading, or canonical understanding, and miss a good 9/10 of what it might possibly say to you.

All this, for a person in red tights, hanging upside down …

Take the card into contemplation. Hang for a while, and see what you learn. Far better, as I keep saying, what you discover on your own, than what you merely read here, words from another. Pointers, merely; fingers toward the Equinox moon. Transform, transform …

What needs inversion in my life? How are my values or outlook upside down? What can I see differently from a radically different stance? Will I let myself relax into such a changed awareness, or immediately “set myself to rights”? If I were Odin or Jesus, would I “do things differently”? If so, how?

DEATH

13-DeathLike the Tower, Death and a few other cards manage to freak out a substantial number of people who work with the Tarot in its many guises.

“Death on a pale horse” comes riding straight outta scripture. (You can choose whether the background sun is rising or setting.) Figure out the banner Old Bony is carrying, and you might be on your way to insight. Death meditations are useful; there’s clear indication that at least some bardic initiations included them, and death-and-rebirth rituals help re-establish a healthier perspective than the ever-popular “life at all costs” obsession current in much of the West. Death, in spite of much bad advertising and spiritual teaching to the contrary, is not an “enemy” but a gateway, an arm of the spiral, a servant of life.

How apt that Death should have the number 13. (“Four” does similar duty in Japan and China, with the word for four a homonym for “death” or “death” [shi in Japanese, si in Mandarin Chinese]. Some Asian hotels go so far as to renumber their floors, avoiding the 4th altogether, just as we get all superstitious and tingly on Friday the 13th. “Friday the 4th” just doesn’t have the same feel at all.)

If you can put yourself into the landscape and know yourself as the Hanged Man, do the same with Death. And since there are other figures on the card, try out being the church official, pope or bishop, in front of Death’s horse.

In the Matthews’ Arthurian deck, this card is the Washer at the Ford, a harmonic of the Morrighan, the Goddess, the Dark Initiator.

What horse am I riding right now? What lies dead all around me? What am I killing by my insistence on my current identity? What needs to die in my life, so other things can be born?

TEMPERANCE

14-Temperance“… in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness”, says Hamlet. The figure suggests elemental transformation. In the whirlwind of passion, can I also find smoothness, equilibrium, balance?

Two-thirds of the way through the journey, the Fool has learned something about moderation — not narrowly “abstinence from alcohol” (unless that’s the form your particular practice of moderation needs to take), but something much more valuable. The angelic figure bears the elemental symbol of fire on its breast, and pours liquid from chalice to chalice, while standing with one foot on earth and one in water: all four elements present and working.

A curious and provocative insight from R. J. Stewart’s The Well of Light:

Do not forget, ever, that you are already Elementals. There is not one, but several of them, most likely a large complex number, within yourself. Our bodies are made of Water, Earth, Fire, and Air.

Our consciousness and energies are Elemental; that is, the philosophical or metaphysical concept of the Four Elements as relative states of motion and energy, but not limited to the modern idea of elements as defined in chemistry and physics. So, to find Elementals, we need look no further than our own bodies and moods. And, I propose, we should pay much more attention to the way our bodies and emotions interact with places and with weather changes.

And a prayer or visualization Stewart uses in many of his books, that I find helpful:

In the name of the Star Father, The Earth Mother, The True Taker, The Great Giver, One Being of Light.

How have I transformed — in spite of myself? What needs tempering in my life? What elemental presences can I honor and bring forward as keys to directions my life might beneficially take? What is this Equinox saying to my earth, my air, my fire and my water?

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Gods, Porn, Methods   Leave a comment

End of year thoughts.

The caption of the photo below has a mini-spoiler — skip as needed.

tradition-books

Yoda has good counsel about books in “Last of the Jedi”

“I do not believe in God any more than I believe in Hamlet”, writes author, Buddhist and atheist Stephen Batchelor, “but this does not mean that either God or Hamlet has nothing of value to say” (Batchelor, Stephen. Living with the Devil. New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2004). I gotta ask you: Doesn’t that deserve its own t-shirt?!

What are some of the things that God (or Hamlet) says to us? For the sake of foolishness or efficiency, let’s lump them together, prince and deity.

As late incarnations of the Fisher King, Hamlet, his father and his uncle all share a corruption also infecting their land itself: “something rotten in the state of Denmark”, indeed. Any sources of healing? A grail? There must be something.

Hmm. Fratricide, regicide, suicide — really no good options there. Hamlet at over 400 years old isn’t quite yet as immortal as a god, but it’s on its way, and even a god might well draw the line at three such wretched choices. There may be “special providence in the fall of a sparrow”, the prince reflects, recalling Scriptural assurances of a Divine Plan behind things, but you can tell when such lines have their own threads in our online fora, with people asking “What does it mean?” that the current beta version of the Divine Plan has sent all birds south for the winter of our play. No birds to save us here, no dove for any Ark, wren for inspiration, Eagle of the West to airlift us out of Mordor.

In a word, things suck. It’s gotten to the point where the Prince selfishly denies even his best friend Horatio the “felicity” or happiness of suicide: “Absent thee from felicity awhile/And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain/To tell my story”. But, I ask Hamlet and God, are any of our stories worth that? Have things always sucked this much? Do we have any overarching story that can make sense of this world for us? (Three questions, Existential Triad #26.) In all its delicious suffering and gloom and razor wit, we could fairly call Hamlet (the play) a piece of Renaissance theater porn.

Is a spiritual search pornographic? Do we play out spiritual scripts to arouse ourselves in ways others (or we ourselves) deem destructive? (Is that a rhetorical question?!)

Horatio says, speaking of Hamlet — and speaking of all of us, too, because that’s what great cultural achievements do, after all — “he was likely, had he been put on/To have proved most royal”. Yes, along with the dead prince, we’re all “put on”, and all “likely”: life as a matter of the odds.

The “royal” part, though — we just can’t accept that yet, even in the face of stories trying their level best to show us, and teach us how. That identity — it implies too much, the gap yawning between what we are and what we could be, an open wound. So we reject it whenever possible, saving such inward knowing for our most unguarded moments with our favorite music, books, films, crafts, people, waking dreams. (Yes, these things rank nearly equal in my life.) Or “children’s movies” we watch with the kids, that may get it half-right, half of the time.

A 27 Dec. ’17 article (film spoiler alert!) in The Atlantic gets in on the Game.  (We’re all playing.) Writing in “Why The Last Jedi Is More ‘Spiritual’ Than ‘Religious'”, Chaim Saiman begins:

For at least two generations, the Star Wars saga has served as a kind of secularized American religion. Throughout the series, the Force is a stand-in for a divine power that draws on a number of mystical traditions, representing the balance of good and evil, the promise of an ultimate unity, and the notion that those learned in its ways can tap into the infinite.

As Saiman scrutinizes the distinctly contemporary sensibility pervading “Last of the Jedi’s” attitude towards tradition, he concludes “… even a fictional secular religion will likely reflect the spiritual economy of its time”. Our tendency to value experiences over learning, or feeling over wisdom (not that these pairs equate) means we often hold traditions suspect without ever having immersed ourselves in them to learn them from the inside. So we often run from one workshop or neo-tradition or guru to another, collecting them like trophies or merit badges. Unlike Rey, we don’t come with a Force chip apparently pre-installed and active as a standard factory setting. (“Oh yes we do!”, say the stories.) Sci-fi porn?

If there’s a shift in the philosophical and religious tone in “Jedi” from the 1977 original Episode IV “A New Hope”, Saiman asserts, it’s that traditions have failed, and we’re thrown back on ourselves. Self-help porn?

So what, in turn, does that mean for our “spiritual economy”?

The great critic and author Harold Bloom told his students, referring to literary criticism, that interpretation is another form of more or less “creative misreading”.

Let’s extend Bloom’s insight where he never intended it, a popular form of magic in itself. How often we misread our lives and each other, the influences they bear on us, and our own motives and desires! Particularly well-done misreadings fill our theaters and earphones, climb our playlists and Top Tens, shaping the zeitgeist ever since zeits became geisty.

Bloom was famous for telling his students “There is no method except yourself” as far as criticism is concerned, and that too feels more widely applicable to our lives.

Or at least to mine. So here goes. Traditions exist, wisdom exists, we encounter them and decide out of all that we are what we will choose and value. In a pinch, we even creatively assign responsibility for our choices to any and everyone else, out of all sorts of motives, honing and refining our method.

Truth is never OSFA, “one size fits all”, though we recognize reflections everywhere, shards of what often feels like an original Mirror. Human traditions often grab hold of a single shard and — terrified they’ll lose even that one — erect it as the sole truth. Maybe this is our original and only idolatry.

So Hamlet instructs the actors for the play-within-the-play, stand-ins for all of us: “Hold the mirror up to nature (or, we might say, existence), to show … the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”. If there’s one thing true wisdom does, it’s to show us such forms and pressures. Not only the holes of a culture and civilization at any given moment, especially our own, but also the rebalancing factors and energies we can apply to survive and thrive in that civilization, and when it starts to falter, after.

In the end, the problem isn’t tradition or ritual, but dead tradition and rotting ritual. The soup of spirituality needs the pot of form, or we go about a life or five with vague intentions that ultimately give us little and fail us at need. “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s”, wrote William Blake.

Almost right.

St Augustine caravaggioFor once I’ll trust old Auggie, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), with the last words this time, with a few annotations. Words suitable to conclude this blog for 2017, and open the way for a new cycle in the new year.

So, then, my brothers, let us sing now, not [only] in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. You should sing as wayfarers do — sing, but continue your journey. Do not be lazy [unless you need to!], but sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going.

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Images: tradition; Caravaggio’s St. Augustine.

 

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