Eight of Swords (I)

Notes of a Hermetic Conversation on May 29, 2020

May 29, 2020

Eight of Swords, part 1

We began with the protective practice.

We then invoked the presence of the Risen Christ.

After briefly focusing the mantra IT THINKS on the larynx chakra, we enacted the third part of the Inner Radiance Sequence. We then enacted the 15th letter of the Divine Alphabet, Samek, in relation to The Devil.

We then read from Revelation 11:2-4

– Picking up where our last conversation left off: looking at the relationship between the Seven of Swords vs the Seven of Coins.

The weaving scimitars that kind of bind or frame the tip of the broad sword are akin to the displaced central coin in the Seven of Coins, framed by the plants.

– Looking at the Five and Six of Coins, noticing the plant forms that are like pointed tongues, or sword tips. In the Five, they point towards the middle, toward the central coin. In the Six, they are pointing to the upper and lower edges. 

Thinking of leaf as blade, as in “blade of grass.”

Interestingly, the Swords don’t have that sharp point so much. It’s more triangular. And those pointed tongue/blades are not present in the Ace through Four of Coins…or the Seven…or any of the others!

The blades in the Five of Coins are more distinctly pointed. The Six is chaotic, but the blades are more sword-like in the Six. This plant, in the Six, is the least flower-like, and the most sword-like.

– In both the Five and the Seven of Coins, there is one coin in the center. Contained and held a certain way. In the Three as well, actually. Just like the odd Swords—the central sword is “held” a certain way (the tip is “held” by the weaving at the top).

This continues in the Nine and Ten of Coins—although it seems to be the case in the Six as well. There is something so unique about the Six of Coins that wasn’t so apparent the first time around. And it was the Six of Swords where things started to “click” a bit more for this suit. Some kind of a turning point.

– The Three and Seven of Coins—the longitudinally central coin is slightly elevated latitudinally 

The Three and Seven of Swords—the red and yellow hilts touch the blade tip

The Five and Nine of Coins—the longitudinally central coin is in the very center

The Five and Nine of Swords—the hilts don’t touch the blade.

The Ten of Coins has a uniqueness that is somehow foreshadowed in the Six of Coins? By that’s not so clear in the Swords.

Really in the Coins the Two foreshadows the Ten as well. Not so much with the Swords?

…moving on to focusing on the Eight of Swords…

– The Eight seems to be moving away or shrinking. It’s more in movement than the Seven. It is a less physical/material object.

The smallness of the flower gives the impression of something condensing, getting smaller, concentrating.

The color scheme contributes to that impression—all blue and red flowers, no yellow.

The effect of the color blue is to fade into the distance, to recede.

Why are all the corner flowers blue?? It’s like the lights turned off, or the inverted color in a photographic negative. The “upside-down” or something. 

It is night. The lights are off. It is quiet. Complete and total opposite of the Eight of Coins—which is so  loud and so bright. The Eight of Coins is the full orchestra, the crescendo of the symphony. This is the sabbath or something. 

– Interesting to compare it to the Devil. 

The experience of quarantine (Phillip’s perspective). Feeling full lethargy within the first few weeks. Even when you know you could do something of interest or purpose, you’re not interested in doing it. And then one day you wake up and are so interested. 

Like this silent will-power—not at all purposeful. Suddenly it finds its place, and snaps to full activity. Whereas just the day before, all you want to do is stay in bed and waste time, play video games or something mindlessly for hours.

Joel had a similar, but different experience. Not nearly as much free time, but still feeling like all he has to give is to what is required of him by his house—nothing to offer in terms of that which he normally feels inspired to work on. Lethargy, lack of the purposeful will. Then suddenly it switches. Writing on Treehouse, catching up on Tarot notes, writing articles and commentaries for Star Wisdom…sudden burst of activity after an all-too-long sabbath.

Perhaps what our will needed was that time of nothing. The night time, the forgetting, the sleep. The rest after which one wakes up refreshed, ready to go. Not getting a second wind in the midst of a marathon. A proper rest, and waking up fully refreshed in the morning. Time to be active again.

– Thinking of the Swords as the repetitive labor at the smithy. You’re letting the fire die down. The metal’s cooling, or something. A break happening.

– The contrast, the back and forth, the sword and plant, up and down. Not a steady forward motion. And the Eight is the most “down” of the plants. In terms of respiration, this is the biggest rest, the least active, the others are still a “productive” rest. The contrast is the strongest in comparison with the Ace in that sense.

– With the Coins, one can be placed on top of the next, they are more or less asking you to find what links them into one long chain.

Here the link is an absence of something. Maybe it’s the viewer—when we experience the Swords as forge, as smithing, it’s assumed the viewer is part of the image, not just recreating/vivifying the image inwardly as in the Coins. 

– The Two and the Eight are the Sword Arcana we’ve brought into relation to The Devil. There is a pretty big contrast there. In a way, the most (2) and the least (8) active of the passive (even, flower) Sword Arcana.

– It takes so much focus to reconnect with the Swords, each and every time. Part of it is that the black shape is an unfinished symbol. You have to contribute something to it. Yes, it’s a sword—but it’s a shape, it’s a womb, a forge, a vessel. But it never imprints, or fully takes shape, as with the Coins: “Oh, yes, these two flowers are performing this kind of activity on these Coins.” 

– This brings us back to the Coins as the training required to be a Knave—to have one eye above and one eye below, concentrating on both and bringing them together. Resolving the world of spiritual facts/images and physical facts/images. 

But if the Coins are the “Knave Training,” then the Swords are the “Knight Training.” In our talks on Hermetic Conversation, we came to the idea that the Knave is looking at details and asking questions. Why is that there? What does that mean? “His hand looks attached to his shoulder…” etc. 

But with the Knight stage of Conversation, there is a flow, an interchange between the Arcanum and the individual. One opens oneself on a soul-level to the image, and allows the image to draw life-experience, memories, recollections, associations, knowledge out of one’s heart that can give body to the Arcanum. It’s where you had to supply the answer, or the context through which an answer could be given, a streaming back and forth, whereas the Knave was simply about exact observation of detail and asking pointed questions. With the Knight, that’s where it gets personal.

The Knave of Coins is processing/rectifying the Above and the Below through his body, he is the medium between the two coins in a kind of lemniscate.

But the Knight of Coins is offering himself as a Coin to the Coin floating before him, drawing him onwards, in order to be organized and transformed by this Coin. The chaos below is slowly being drawn into greater clarity, like a veil of order falling gradually over the Knight.

– In recent Tarot conversations, the idea has come up that the path of the Knave represents the transition from Mysticism to Gnosis, and that the path of the Knight shows the transition from Gnosis to Sacred Magic.

But after re-reading notes to the conversations on The Fool from over two years ago (recently shared with some friends in the context of disruptive events in the realm of ego-consciousness), these ideas beg revisiting and revising.

Let’s remember what we came to back then, as we were completing our initial journey through the Major Arcana:

We were using a basic spiritual geometry of the Divine Name Yod He Vau He, where the second “He” of a given iteration of the Divine Name becomes simultaneously the “Yod” of the subsequent iteration. For example, Magician (Yod)—High Priestess (He)—Empress (Vau)—Emperor (He) is followed by Emperor (Yod)—Pope (He)—Lover (Vau)—Chariot (He), and so on:

Moving through the 22 Major Arcana in this way yields three “pillars” and four “paths”:

We realized that the first path, in the central pillar, is that of Mysticism through Gnosis—this path begins with the Magician and ends with the Sun.

This is the path of “Yod” Arcana. The World is not included, as she is only a second “He”; she does not begin a new iteration of YHVH, and therefore is not a “Yod.” The Sun is the final Arcanum on this path of Yod, which has the two youths in conversation—the mystical experience, bubbling up from the depths of consciousness, is brought into reflection (conversation), to the full light of thought/consciousness/memory. The Sun transitions us to the High Priestess, it transitions us from Mysticism to Gnosis.

The second path is the path of the first “He”, which runs from the High Priestess through the Judgement. It shows us the step by step transition from Gnosis to Sacred Magic—where mystical experience, brought to conscious reflection, becomes word and deed in the outer world. The Judgement shows us the leap to Sacred Magic, and transitions us to The Empress.

The Empress begins the third path, the path of “Vau.” This path runs from The Empress to The Fool. This is the path that transitions Sacred Magic to Hermeticism, where outer magical (sacrificial) deed becomes living Tradition, a spiritual School in its own right. The Fool shows us the leap into Hermeticism, transitioning us to The Emperor. 

And the fourth path, from Emperor to The World, is the path from Hermeticism to the fifth level—to the Sacred Art of The World, to the Goethean experience of Nature as Art and Art as continuation of Nature, and both of those as Natural Religion. This is the path of the second “He.” And it is the culmination of this path in The World that is our point of departure for the Minor Arcana—this is where we begin in the Ace of Coins.

So what does this imply? It implies that our starting point on the “path of the Knave”, the Suit of Coins, is not Mysticism. It is not an experience of the psycho-spiritual depths of the human soul and spirit. It is not an en-static experience. It is an ec-static experience of the outer world as spiritual expression, an experience of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in outer Nature, in Sacred Art and Religion. It is the macrocosmic equivalent to microcosmic Mysticism. We can only call this Goetheanism as an approximation of adequately naming/describing what is contained here.

And so the path of the Knave moves us from this primal ecstatic experience of the outer world, towards Hermeticism—to creating a systematism of correspondences between above/below, inner/outer, to properly order our ecstatic experiences. This path is nothing other than the path laid out by Rudolf Steiner as spiritual science—the path from Goetheanism to Hermeticism (Anthroposophy). 

The Knave path of the Coins is therefore not the path from Mysticism to Gnosis. It is the path from Goetheanism to Hermeticism. The “how to” of Hermeticism as “step one” for us non-initiated novices. It is a re-treading, backwards, of the path from Emperor to World. Therefore, in one sense, the Coins take us along this journey:  World—Sun—Tower of Destruction—Death—Wheel of Fortune—Chariot—Emperor. We end at the Emperor/Knave state of being.

So what is the “path of the Knight”, the Suit of Swords? It is taking what has been established as Hermeticism (Knave) and aligning our inner life of feeling and willing and intention with it in order to find the path to Sacred Magic. The active alignment of two wills, the human and the Divine. The path of the Knight is a retreading, backwards, of the third path outlined above: The Fool—The Moon—Devil—Hanged Man—Hermit—Lover—Empress. We are learning how to be not just Hermeticists, but Magicians. Not just experiencing the “method” or epistemology of Philosophy of Freedom, but actively applying it to the outer world, as Rudolf Steiner did to Theosophy in order to create Anthroposophy, and as Valentin Tomberg did to Catholic Martinism in order to create Meditations on the Tarot. 

So the Knight Path is not the path from Gnosis to Sacred Magic, it is the path from Hermeticism to Sacred Magic. Taking the potentially dead systematism and bringing it to life, to action.

And the treading of these paths has even matched our outer experiences, the strokes of destiny that have hit us. We began the first four Coin Arcana under the signs of The World and The Sun, but then with the transition from the Four to the Five—that is, from The Sun to the Tower of Destruction—came Phillip’s separation from Erica and the planting of the seed for Joel’s separation from Plowshare. Traveling then over the course of August 2018 through June of 2019, through the Tower, Death, the Wheel of Fortune, the Chariot, leading ultimately to the Emperor—this feeling of being absolutely alone, immobile, anonymous, in the wilderness. 

Then we moved into the next path with the Swords, under the sign of the (Wandering) Fool. We traveled all over the place that summer, to Santa Fe, to the cabin, to Finland and France. Joel and his family were virtually homeless, in between situations. Then with the Three of Swords through the Eight of Swords, we are on a path of darkness—the Moon, the Devil, the Hanged Man. The increasing separation, the nonsense and doom of covid-19, etc. The feeling of listlessness. But now, as we turn to the Nine, we will enter into the portion of the path where the light turns on—the Hermit, the Lover, the Empress. The path of the Cups and the Queen—from Judgement to High Priestess, from Sacred Magic to Gnosis, will be a blessed relief!

– The Coins are like experiencing each particular piece of this originally ecstatic wholeness. Then you turn around and look back, and it’s all picked to pieces. And you yourself are what has brought about this death process. 

It keeps going back to two Sword Arcana needing to be brought together to make one, to make sense. Just like the Coin floats magically before the Knight of Coins—we have to piece them together, raise them up before us—and then it’s like a magical invocation, in a way, as you constantly have to find the missing link that pieces them together. Like sand between our fingers. And you (we) are that missing link.

– Going back to the Swords as the workshop of the other suits, other Arcana. It’s a repair shop, and your will in particular that is the solvent and/or the epoxy. And it isn’t just a matter of giving your attention—you have to want it. The Coins engage the curiosity/imagination. The Swords say, “Oh, there’s nothing here. Never mind.” And you have to then will to understand what you’re looking at. If you only placed one Sword Arcanum in front of someone, they might not see anything, whereas it’s quite natural to wonder about the (individual) Coin Arcana, to see a relationship of a dance between Coin and Plant. 

– Going back to the Eight of Swords. Why is one corner flower somewhat different, incomplete?

The top left, based on the pearl as orienting object. 

Why would one flower be different, in the one Arcanum that is different? This is really the “black sheep” of the Swords. Like the black has taken over, the darkness has taken over. It’s all shade. Bits of it are disappearing. Notice too that the Pearl has returned, another reflection of the Two. 

– The Eight mirrors strongly The World, but emphasizes the garland rather than the Four animals. The Three gunas…this idea doesn’t totally click somehow. It’s certainly reasonable, but it isn’t intuitively accessible like other parts of Meditations on the Tarot, that just seem natural and therefore are easy to grasp. 

Notice in The World it is like a sword tip peeking through the wreath in the red ribbon at the top.

– The Six of Swords was the first time we had a “threefold wreath”; that is, it is a three-layered frame of scimitars around the central flower. Just as the wreath around the dancer is threefold in The World. Maybe that is what made things “click” in the Six—it just felt right.

Now with the Eight, the “garland” becomes a bit too obvious, too large, and so you’re reminded once again quite heavily of the World—suddenly the “garland” stands out like it hadn’t really since the Two. The Two was when we first noticed it, as the Ace doesn’t have this basic geometry of the vesica piscis/garland. The Ace didn’t remind us at all of The World, but the Two certainly did—yet in a way very different geometrically than the Ace of Coins, which emphasized the four corners and the central fifth more so than the threefold garland.

The garland is now “taking over” so to speak—the Night is closing in. An inverted garland, or anti-garland. Not made of leaves or flowers, it isn’t living. It’s metallic, a solid impenetrable dark substance. The bars of a cage.

– Re-reading the Letter-Meditation on Death, realizing that all the Suit of Sword imagery could be used to express the burning of the bricks to build the Tower, the crystallization of the ghost-human, as described on pages 356-359. The anti-eternal body, an eternal mineralized astral. More and more power and substance is drawn to the realm of the ghost, of the shadow, building the Tower. Ahriman wishes to extract substances and forces from this cosmos and set up his own mineralized/technological anti-cosmos, populated by “ghosts”, phantoms, shells.

– Each Sword card refers back to The World. But they are split off from the wholeness that is The World. Each left on its own is like a dead World, not identical, a variation, a false copy. Different “dead” aspects of the living World. 

– The Coins have a striking geometry with the Majors, in terms of working through the sequence World—Judgement—Sun—Moon—Star throughout the Suit of Coins. Here this geometrical synchronicity is much less emphasized. It isn’t so striking when one compares the geometry of the Swords to the Tower—Devil—Death—Temperance—Hanged Man.

It’s more like the Swords have cherry-picked certain details from those Majors, pulled them to pieces. You’ve got antlers and bat wings and scythes and severed branches, ribs and bones—all bits and pieces stolen from the Majors. But now they are lifeless, because they’ve been severed from their context, from the whole. Like what Bergson says about the intellect at the start of The Moon—its mode of apprehension is to kill the living wholeness, spitting it into discreet (dead, motionless) parts. 

– Looking again at the four Paths we established in the Majors. Walking backwards through these four paths. This makes the Emperor = Knave, more or less. And Empress = Knight.

– The Coins seem to be asking to be killed, whereas the Swords are asking for Resurrection.

– The Ace of Swords is a natural progression, more or less, from our experience of the Coins. The Two of Swords is still living. The Three seems to fit together and “complete” the circle of the Two. But by the Four we are grasping any and everywhere for meaning, for something that will give us meaning.

By the time we have reached the Eight, we are stripped all the way back. A complete recession. It’s like the mineral/natural world, running on the left-over forces that formed it originally at the start of Earth evolution. Now completely dead. The Eight has that quality. We’re completely out of gas.

– When placed on its side, the Eight is the Arcanum that looks most like an eye. Perhaps the eye is closing?

– The Coins are full of life, whereas the Swords are a gradual death.

– In terms of Buddhi, as distillation of the etheric review of the life just lived. It must be a real sorrow coming out of the etheric review. A loss. Even though you have the distillation, it’s not quite the same. The last goodbye, the last glimpse into those experiences, friends, etc. One must be totally empty, forget everything completely in order to move on to creating the next body, the next destiny.

It must be the same after the Midnight Hour—erasing all of one’s experience moving up through the planetary spheres. Total darkness. These various points of forgetting and completely re-organizing in human destiny.

– We have had only long-distance conversations for almost 3 months. There will probably be one more “over the phone” conversation, focused on the Eight, but then when we reach the Nine we can start to “wake up” again!

Boy, are we going to be desperate for face cards, Court Arcana, by the time we get to the Knave of Swords! We feel like we’re at the end of our rope, and there’s still two more numbered Swords to go!

– Feeling this emptiness. There is not a geometric resonance between Majors and Minors—that is a “Knave” resonance. There is instead an emotional/inner resonance between Majors and Minors in terms of the Swords. This is a “Knight” resonance. The Swords take us completely into the “Dark Night of the Soul,” the plight of the Hanged Man, the realm of Death, the confrontation with the shadow, etc. 

– When one reads Meditations on the Tarot, this is the hardest section—between Hanged Man and Tower of Destruction. It is where some people stop, and can’t finish the book. Encourage people to finish—because the ending is so glorious! The crescendo of Sun, Judgement, Fool, World is so magnificent after the desert you’ve just walked through. Such an amazing reward and relief! And yet here, with the Minor Arcana, it is the opposite gesture. One begins with the crescendo in the Coins—and then is cast out into the dryness of the desert with the Swords! A difficult journey.

– The Swords really are all about loss. Here, with the Eight, this is complete. You can’t fool yourself anymore. Even if it is a work of repairing, it is nonetheless a compensation coming after loss, after payment.

– The Knave path is geometric, abstracted from the mood of the Majors

The Knight path is split into bits and pieces. Then homogenized, killed, and therefore the inner mood is even more accentuated. “Let loss be gain in itself” from Steiner’s Twelve Moods. This is from the Pisces verse. The last sign of the Zodiac, the end—vesica piscis. 

– The experience of the dissolution of the personality for Phillip. Starting to lose awareness, a kind of fainting—and then recognizing that it is happening, a dread and fear wakes you up, brings you back temporarily. But then it’s like one step forward, two steps back. A gradual fading that comes about unrecognized. You still gain something, you don’t lose everything. It leaves an absence that is so noticeable and tangible—the absence is the gift. “Let loss be gain in itself.”

– For Joel’s upheaval, it was only when he could completely give in to the reality of having lost himself—kind of like the goodbye moment of the etheric review, when it distills into buddhi. But only that complete resignation makes a hole large enough for something new to come in and then the loss is a gain—an unspeakable gain—for something completely new to come in. 

– We feel like we’re just talking about the story of the Age of Pisces, 215-2375 AD. Asymptotically approaching the Eight of Swords. All of humanity getting ever closer to this point of absolute dissolution and loss—you thought it was World War I? No. World War II? No. Post 9/11? No. Circling the rim of the black hole. But maybe we have finally arrived. Maybe Trump is like the turn from the Eight to the Nine—the point of maximum resignation and total loss, loss of meaning, total absurdity. Like the toddler fit that comes when they’ve gone entirely too long without food or sleep, or too much sugar and tv. 

We closed with the third part of the Foundation Stone Meditation.